A Business Venture and Start for the West
On arriving at home with three hundred dollars which I had saved, I was content to remain idle for a short time, spending my days floating down the Meramec in my canoe or resting under the shade of the trees. But this could not last long, and soon I commenced to look around for something to do. From our home the nearest village was twenty miles. Scattered here and there was a country store. There was none nearer than seven or eight miles from our place, and I conceived the idea that I could establish myself in the business.
On our place was a landing on the Meramec River where the pine logs from the ridge were hauled and made into rafts and then floated down the river to where it enters the Mississippi, and from there they were towed up the river some twelve miles to St. Louis, there to be used for lumber piling, etc. I thought this would be a good location, so I immediately went to work with a carpenter, and by the end of July, I had a building twenty by forty feet, with shelving and counters complete. I had already gone to St. Louis to a firm who were engaged in the business of furnishing country stores, and as I was entirely ignorant of what I needed, they selected a stock invoicing about two thousand dollars, on which I paid my three hundred dollars, and the balance they carried for me.
In one of these stores were carried a little of everything, groceries, hardware, clothing, dry goods, patent medicines – of course, only in small quantities of each. Running a country store is not a very complicated business, and I soon learned and was successful from the start. That is, as successful as one can be in so small a business. I was my own clerk, janitor, bookkeeper and everything else. I had my breakfast home early of a morning and carried a lunch with me to the store, and at dark I would lock up and go home for my evening meal, then go back to the store, read an hour or so, pull a cot from under the counter, make it up, and sleep until morning with a gun by my side. As a good many rough characters visited the mountains, it was not considered safe to leave the store, a half mile from the nearest house, over night.
This continued through the summer and winter until March second, 1858, on which date I was married to Miss Catherine Patton, a young lady to whom I had been engaged for two years. Miss Patton was a well educated woman descended from two old Southern families, the Pattons and the Hydes, her mother having been a member of the latter family. At the time of my marriage I was within four days of my twenty-second birthday by the figures, but looking backward and considering all of my experience, I feel as if I must have been ten years older, and I think I felt so at the time. It seems to me that I entered into the new relation with all the seriousness and consideration of an older man. At this time I took into a partnership a brother of my wife, a Mr. John Q. Patton, which partnership lasted until 1860, Mr. Patton staying at the store, while my wife and I resided with my parents, until I had completed a neat little four-room cottage close to the store, where we resided until the fall of 1859. During this year my young wife's health began to fail, and the doctor advised me to move to some more even climate. My brother-in-law had, in the meantime, married my oldest sister, and as he had lived for ten years in California, and my wife's only sister lived there, it was decided that we would close out our business, collect in our debts, buy the necessary horses, oxen and wagons and be ready to start across the plains early in the spring. Of course, we had to sell at a great sacrifice the little piece of land. My store building and cottage I had almost to give away. As we had to give up our cottage and sell the furniture, my wife and I went to board with her aunt who had raised her, her father and mother both having died when she was very young. I had to be away a good deal collecting together everything we would need for the long journey in the spring, but generally managed to get around once or twice in a week. On January fifth, 1860, my oldest son, T. W. Hawkins, was born, and on March thirteenth we started on our long journey. My father and the balance of the family had caught the California fever during the winter, had sold the farm, and were ready to accompany us.
Our outfit consisted of father's two wagons and eight yoke of oxen, my wagon and five yoke of oxen, and John Patton with one wagon and four yoke of oxen—in all, four wagons, seventeen yoke of oxen, fourteen horses, some sixty head of loose cattle, and the party consisted of about twenty persons, including drivers. The wagons were loaded with all kinds of supplies likely to be needed on a six months' journey where nothing could be bought. Our supply included bacon, hams, salt, pepper, baking powder, tea, coffee, flour and a hundred other things which filled the body of the wagon to overflowing. We had also cooking utensils, pans for milk, and tin plates, tin cups, knives and forks. At that time canned goods were unknown and I have often thought how much better a trip of that kind would be now when one can have all kinds of canned fruits and vegetables, but when we have all these things and one could go pleasantly, who would want to go two thousand miles in an oxen wagon? Such is the irony of fate. The world surely "it do move" even if the sun does not. Of course, each of us carried a tent, but I do not remember that mine was set up more than half a dozen times on the whole journey. My wagon was so arranged that the load was covered by a floor on which we placed our bed, the wagon, of course, being canvas covered and the canvas could be drawn together at either end as much as desired, making the inside as private and comfortable as one could wish. My hired man pitched the tent for himself a few times, but it soon became monotonous and he fell into the habit of spreading his blankets under the wagon, or when it became warm, in any convenient place.
At the time we started there was no green feed, the intention being to reach the outfitting town of West Point and there purchase whatever we needed and strike out from civilization as soon as the grass was large enough to depend upon entirely. Consequently, we camped close to some farm every night, where we could buy fodder for our stock, and I was fortunate enough to get a bed for my wife and boy until we reached the state line.
Southwestern Missouri was even at that time fairly settled and we passed farmhouses every few miles. The country was rolling land, mostly prairie, after the first few days, plentifully watered with many streams, bordered by heavy timber.
Our route lead us through Rolla, then a village, now a flourishing city, Lebanon, Buffalo, Bolivar, Humansville, Osceola and Butler, to West Point, the fitting-out point for emigrants.
Ten years before this time, I understood, there were hundreds of wagons gathered here, and thousands of men waiting for the grass to start. That was during the great emigration of 1849 and 50. But at the time we arrived there were only a few wagons and families waiting.
We met with no mishap of any importance until just before reaching Butler. We had to cross a creek with steep banks, and the road was cut down the side of the incline in a circular form. We had no water for ten or twelve miles and the oxen were very thirsty. I was ahead driving my own team and when the lead span neared the water they pulled the wheelers and the wagon so that the wheels on the farther side were out of the road and on the high bank. I took hold of the wagon as my wife and boy were inside, hoping to prevent it tipping over, but in vain I used all my strength. It came over on me, one of the bows striking me across the back and pinning me to the ground. The wagon came over so easily that my wife and boy were not the least injured, and even the load was not greatly displaced. As soon as possible the men from behind hurried up, and righting the wagon, carried me up onto the level ground, where a tent was hastily erected and a bed and bedding brought on which I was placed, conscious, but unable to move. Meantime one of the men was dispatched to Butler, on one of our best horses, for a doctor. When he arrived I saw a more than middle aged, roughly dressed man. He was an army doctor, had served through the Mexican War, and as we were traveling, living out of doors, and in every way like soldiers, he would treat me as he would a soldier.
The first thing he did was to open a vein in my arm, and I remember he had to use his lancet a number of times before he could get a drop of blood, and when it did start it was perfectly black, and so thick that it would hardly flow, but after it started, it bled more freely and I do not know how much he took from me, but enough to leave me very weak, and I found I could move myself a little. He then gave me what he called an army dose of calomel, a heaping teaspoonful, I thought enough to kill a dozen men, but he said it was a small quantity that was dangerous and would salivate. Anyway I never felt any ill-effects from it. The next morning I was better but not able to be moved. We lay here two or three days, by which time I was well enough to be placed on a bed in a wagon, and as it was not a desirable place to camp, a man was procured to drive my team, and we started again. Every time the wagon jolted I thought it would break me in two, but as it was only some twelve miles to West Point, I endured it.
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