I have often felt history is much more fascinating than what writers create. People are remarkable in their strength and courage. They do impossible things. Some times, though, the most courageous events are simply surviving in difficult, if not disastrous, circumstances.
If a person is familiar with old west history, they recognize the name Charlie Goodnight. He was a tough man in a deadly land. Most people don’t realize he was also shored up by an equally remarkable, devoutly Christian woman. This story was partially based on her love of the orphan buffalo calves she took in and raised.
December 22, 1862
Trees For Maryanne
Maryanne listened to the familiar scratching and pecking on the wooden floor under her bed. Her friends were awake and ready to start a new day.
She pushed the pile of quilts aside and padded over to the door to open it. “Come on, ladies. Time to go outside and find some bugs.” The Rhode Island Red hens fluttered and squawked, when she shooed them from under the bed with a broom. The hens came in each night to sleep under her bed and then returned to the corrals with the break of dawn. She told herself it was to keep the coyotes from killing them off, but deep down she knew the soft clucking and rustling as they settled in for the night was a comfort to her. They helped make the long, lonely nights not quite so solitary, while Jacob was away at war.
Maryanne was forking hay into the corral for her orphan buffalo calves when Bones raised his head and stared at something in the distance. She leaned the pitchfork against the gate and followed the dog’s gaze. There was a rider coming. Not many people came up the canyon by mistake. She could make out the shapes now, but he was still to far away to recognize him. A lone rider leading a packhorse approached at a steady pace. It was probably another cowboy with an orphan buffalo calf. They gathered them up, when they could and brought them to her to raise. Jacob joked they’d have more buffalo than cattle if she didn’t quit adopting the strays.
The rider was close enough to identify now. She recognized the gait of the little bay pacing pony, rather. It was Thomas Goodson from the Rocker B, or at least it was his horse.
“Miz Tabor,” Thomas said when he reined up before her. He laughed at the hens scurrying around her. “We brought you those chickens to eat so you’d have a break from antelope and buffalo.”
She brushed a blond curl back under her black hat. “Shoot. You know I couldn’t eat the girls. Who would I have to talk to?” She smiled widely at his lopsided grin.
“I reckon you could talk to those buffalo as good as the chickens, ma’am.”
“I tried. They don’t speak any English and I don’t speak enough Sioux to carry on a decent conversation. Guess I better keep the girls around.”
Thomas laughed. “I reckon that’s so. Maybe we ought to find you a rooster too so you can raise a few more.” He pulled two covered bundles from the packhorse and dropped them on the ground. “I’ve got a brother in Colorado who said these would do well out here to the best of his knowledge.”
“What are they?” she asked, staring down at the lumpy blankets.
He pulled off the covers. “Trees, ma’am. Bob said you were talking about how much you missed having a tree to decorate at Christmas the last time he came to check on you. I asked my brother to find you some trees that might grow out here. He shipped them as far as he could on the train and then the boys relayed them from ranch to ranch until they hit us.”
Maryanne sat on the stoop and sipped a cup of coffee in the moonlight. Two tiny candles sat on the ground in front of the pine saplings. Ribbons fluttered softly in the gentle night breeze.
“Trees. Sure wish I had more to give those boys than some bullberry jelly, but Thomas seemed very pleased.” She smiled to herself and sighed. “Unbelievable. Trees for me. For surely oh Lord ye shall bless the righteous with favor as a shield. What have I done to deserve such favor, Lord?”
The hens clucked softly under the bed behind her. “Yes, girls, I know. It’s past your bedtime. I’m coming.”
She reached down for the candles and returned to the sod house. A smile teased her lips as she watched the ribbons dancing in the moonlight.