Mary Ella Hickman (sister to Lerona)

Yes, I want to go on with the story, and mention the sacrifices mother made for us, for I know she will never tell them.  In fact, she didn’t seem to consider them as sacrifices, but as privileges, and as her mother heart was far more glorious than one who thinks of each service to her family as a sacrifice.  Mother was born in Farmersville, New York in 1830.  I was born in Murray, Utah, thirty-five years later on September 28, 1865.

My mother was a widow from the time I was 18 months old.  My first recollection is crossing the Snadridge between Salt Lake and Ogden.  I was peeking through the little round hole in the back of the wagon cover, and then childish like, and without reason, I took my little pisy calico sun bonnet and dropped it through the hole.

The first Christmas I remember, I got a doll.  It was the pride and joy of my heart.  And when if fell be the bake oven and burned a hole in it’s dress, I was inconsolable until mother comforted me as she sat by the fireplace stitching the men’s coats she was making.  She was never too busy to give consolation, however.  She was always working, stitch, stitch, stitch, stitch with her needle—and then heating her iron in the fireplace, she would carefully press her sewing until I almost wondered if she were magic, to make such lovely things.

In the evening she would either tell us a bedtime story, read some poetry, or a chapter from the bible, and then the song of the spinning wheel would sing us to sleep.  And the same music would waken us in the morning.  I used to wonder if my mother ever slept.  There is still some of the homespun left from my mother’s spinning.  A pair of stocking legs of the grandmother’s were still worn by my mother when I was a child.  I asked her about them one day, and she told me that she had worn them twenty-five years.  They had been refooted and restored, and reheeled many times, but the legs had only an occasional darn as mother held them up with pride after that twenty five years of service.  The wool had been spun by hand its full length.  The home spun clothes of those early days were made to last as long as possible, and not for one short season’s styles.

Buffalo robes and buckskins were also much used in early days.

Our foods were of the substantial type, there were no pastries not the rich foods of the present day.  We ate the food provided by nature, and we even learned many things from the Indians who dried their meat, berries and savory leaves, pounding them up together and making it into cakes.  After which they were dried in the sun and stored away for winter.  These cakes were called “Pemmican”.  The biscuits and bread they begged from the white people were seldom eaten in their  fresh state, but dried and stored away for the winter’s supply of food.  The serviceberries, so named because they served so well for food, were dried in great quantities.  We used them as raisins in our puddings.

In pioneer days small couples would come from foreign countries and when their sons grew up in this country, from the substantial diet of the pioneers; these sons, of a small stock, would do surprising things and often pass the six-foot mark in height.  They ate the nature food and nature responded by giving them large, healthy bodies.  Whole wheat, (ground in small mills), roasted potatoes, service berries, plenty of produce, cress, fresh milk,, butter and other garden products, in the season thereof, produced a hardy pioneer people who are now able to face life and its sternest problems.

We were taught, as mother had been, that it was a sin to waste.  If we had more than was needed, there were always others in need---and our greatest pleasure was in sharing.  The only thing my mother was ever extravagant with was fuel.  She was brought up in New York, where wood was plentiful, and she couldn’t feel like she was working unless she had a fire going.  I learned economy of fuel from a lady in Ogden, from whom I went to stay, and learn the Hair trade, when I was fourteen.  She told me to only make a fire on one side of the stove and there would be enough heat to heat the kettle on the other end.

When I was twelve, mother went to take care of my sister in confinement.  Our own orchard was just beginning to bear fruit  I dried $45,50 of peaches, which were shipped by team to the mines in Montana.  The money bought our winter’s clothes and groceries.

When I was fifteen, 1880, we went to Idaho because mother had accepted a position as housekeeper.  The hired man came for the waste bread—mother had none.  He came again a second time and asked for the waste bread for the pig.  “I don’t make bread for the pigs,” said the man. “Guess I’ll have to get some bran for them.”  They told mother she saved her wages by her economy.

She had been doctor and nurse for years—her health was failing under the strain and when she was offered the housekeeper’s position at the Boss Fork Trading Post, now called fort Hall, she accepted.

I was sent to Ogden to attend the Sacred Heart Academy.  One half hour was given in the school to dress, wash, comb the hair, make the bed, and clean the stand.  I had been used to taking half an hour to comb my hair, and consequently was late every morning.  I always got scolded, until I made up my mind that if the rest could get through in half and hour I could.  At the end of the first year I was able to do it all in fifteen minutes.  That left fifteen minutes to study, which I put to good use for the girls who were a year ahead of me when I went there, were behind me when I left at the end of two years.

I was very dainty about my food when I went there, but never after.  We could get so hungry that everything tasted good.  At 4:00 P.M. we had collision, a slice of bread and molasses.  I always begged for straight bread.

If we asked for a piece when we were children mother would say,  “If your are hungry enough to eat a piece of dry bread go and get it.”  Nothing tasted better than a piece of dry bread when I was hungry.  Even yet, I enjoy chewing a crust until it becomes sweet in my mouth.  The starch actually turns to sugar and is easily digested in the stomach.

In 1885 I had a room with a relative in Salt Lake City.  My food cost me $1.00 a week. I had everything I desired at an average of fifteen cents a day  One loaf of bread, five cents, one quart of milk, five cents.  Sometimes I had bread and milk and other times I used the cream and let the milk sour for cottage cheese, or beat it up for butter milk.  Vegetables were one cent a pound, fruit from one to two cents per pound.  This left two of three cents a day for anything else I care for  Often a friend ate with me but as I bought my extras in quantities it did not seem to make much difference in the general bill.

When I married in 1886, we went on a homestead in Idaho.  There were great expansions in building fencing, clearing the sagebrush off the land, and everything that goes with building a new country.  Often two of us lived on less than a dollar a week.  We could buy one hundred pound of potatoes for fifty cents.  Jackrabbits were plentiful and my husband was a good shot.  Our meat diet was cottontail or bunny fried in butter.

When we had exhausted all our means on the homestead, my husband got his job back in Pocatello.  Every six months, however, it was necessary to return to the ranch in order to hold it.  Before we proved upon it my husband met with an accident and lost the sight of one eye.  He thought if I had to make the living, I could do better in some town where he could help raise a garden.  We got a little home ten miles from Ogden.  I made coats into capes as capes were then the fashion, and did dress making and sewing of all sorts.

When our six months was up my husband again returned to the homestead to look after things.  He wrote to me to follow, as a man had decided to jump our claim if we did not return. 

We had two mares with colts, and I ridded up a white top buggy, filled the box with food and clothing, made a bed on top of everything, put in my five little children and on the fifteenth of September 1894, we started out.

When we reached Curlew Valley it snowed, so we stayed three days at my brother’s.  After leaving my brother’s, we camped at night.  I gave the children their supper, then told them stories until they went to sleep.

My eldest daughter asked me recently if I remembered how the wolves howled around our camp when we were going back to Idaho to save our homestead?  She said, “I think they were trying to get the colts.”  It was such a lonely place and she thought if I was not afraid, it was all right.  She says I taught her the greatest psychology in her childhood she has ever learned,  “If it is anything bad, the Lord won’t let it hurt you.  If it is anything good it won’t hurt you, so don’t be afraid of anything.

We had the cabin on the homestead stripped of its meager furniture, and had very little money to provide more.  My husband was sick all winter but I got a little school to teach, a mile away.  It was hard to walk through the blizzards sometimes, when the snow was nearly two feet deep.  One of my pupils, who was a mother who had had no opportunity for an education in her youth, came daily with her family of children to learn.  One day she said to me “How can you be so happy in your circumstances?”  “Why shouldn’t I be happy?”  I have school to teach and can provide for my family, and do not have to live on charity or see my children want.”

Other years, when crops failed, I started out with a team and covered wagon, in the autumn, going twenty miles on one side and seventy on the other, to buy and trade provisions.  Once on my last trip, I was overtaken by a storm.  I never crossed bridges until I got to them.  I had an extra horse tied beside the team.  He got frightened at one of the frail bridges and crowded the team so that one wheel slipped off into the mire at Mershaw Creek, ten miles west of Pocatello.  The team just could not pull it out even after I had unloaded all the wheat, flour and supplies.  I unhitched and fed them and we got up into the wagon to eat our lunch.  I always took one of the older and one of the younger children with me.  They kept me company and were a great comfort.  “We can’t stay here all night,” said the older child, “What will we do?”

“No one can cross the bridge until they help us out, “I answered, and before we had finished our lunch, one of the finest teams I had ever seen came along.  There were two big strong men in the wagon.  They had to unhitch and help us out, but then they went on with out even offering to help load the sacks of wheat back into the wagon.  I managed it someway and was soon on the road rejoicing in our winter’s supply of provisions.



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