Thursday, May 20, 2021

Pieces of the Santa Fe Trail - Indian Star

In the words of Marian Russell...

"Mr. Mahoney was killed by the Indians while he was out on a scouting expedition.  Of his death I have nothing but a hazy recollection.  I remember mostly my mother and how when the news came, she leaned against the wall for support, one hand clutching at her throat as if she were choking.  I remember the horror in her eyes.  it did not occur to me that I would never see my Mr. Mahoney again; never see his great gnarled hands and that shock of yellowish hair.  They did not tell me how out on the prairies there had been an Indian waiting in ambush, or how before he died he had asked that his love be given to Eliza and little Marian.  When I think of my step-father I think of a man with sunshine in his face and a rollicking sound in his voice.

After my step-father's death, mother, Will and I waited two long years in Kansas City.  We waited for Grandfather Sloan to come and get us.  He and his two sons had gone out to California several years before.  Grandfather Sloan had written that he was coming and would take us back to California with him.  Mother was anxious to go.  She was lonely and the interest she had in life seemed waning.  So we waited for grandfather to come for us; but we waited in vain.  That was the year of the cholera epidemic, and grandfather and both of his sons died with it and were buried in far away California.  The news reached us slowly.  Wagon trains were often a year making the trip from California.

During this waiting period I attended a Catholic primary school of the Sacred Heart in Kansas City.  It pleased me mightily to learn that the small black curlicues in my primer really meant something.  It was wonderful to make letters on a slate that was bound all around with bright red wool and to rub the letters out with a small yellow sponge that the teacher said had grown down on the bottom of the ocean.  I wore clean little white pinafores with a pocket for my handkerchief.  The Sisters moved quietly among us and sometimes our lessons were from the Bible.  Only children of six and seven attended the primary school of the Sacred Heart in Kansas City.

When school closed in the spring of 1852, mother decided that we would go to California anyway.  So we left Kansas City and moved to Fort Leavenworth where immigrant trains were wont to assemble in preparation for the trip westward.  Fort Leavenworth was a little city of tents and covered wagons encamped on the edge of the prairies.  Wagon trains from the east and west were arriving daily.

Mother's friend and ardent admirer was Francis Xavier Aubry, a famous wagon master.  He was a young man some where in his late twenties.  I remember his young piercing eyes and his boundless energy.  He was a virile man, with a deep voice that was as resonant as a fog horn.  Mother had planned that we were to take passage in Captain Aubry's train, for the Indians were bad along the Santa Fe Trail and she had great confidence in him.  Captain Aubry's train was encamped at Fort Leavenworth waiting until more wagons arrived westward bound.  The more wagons the greater safety from attack by the Indians.  At last a big government train pulled in from the east and Captain Aubry made plans for an early departure.

Passengers on the government train included three young men.  Two were army officers enroute to Fort Union.  The third was a graduate doctor from West Point.  These young men offered mother, Will and me transportation as far as Fort Union if mother would prepare their meals enroute for them.  Mother gladly agreed for transportation from Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1852, was $250.00 and, of course there was also half fare for the children.  She saved $500 by cooking for the young men, besides which they furnished the provisions.

During our enforced wait at Fort Leavenworth, Will and I had become acquainted with Captain Aubry.  He was our very good friend.  We took our childish woes to him for solace, visiting him in his great covered wagon.  He was not pleased because Will was thin and pale looking.  It worried him because Will spent so much time reading.  Before we reached Santa Fe he said he would make a great hunter and trapper out of Will.

A will-o'-the-wisp was the Santa Fe Trail, an ancient route and one of the longest in history.  It led from our eastern seaboard to the waters of the blue Pacific.  If we could but measure it by the tears and the smiles it has known we would never be able to trace its way through American history.  Along the trail lives were lost.  Sometimes the bones of the victims oft whitened along the trail.  The yucca shook out white bells along the way.  Northern lights beckoned.  And daily the covered wagons left Fort Leavenworth over the broad, rutted road stretching westward as far as the eye could see.

Cholera was raging in Fort Leavenworth the day our white-hooded wagons set sail on the western prairies.  Our little city of tents dissolved like snow in a summer sun.  Captain Aubry broke camp first; his great wagon swayed out onto the trail.  We heard his powerful voice calling orders to follow.  Wagon after wagon rolled onward and it was not until the last of Captain Aubry's wagons was well on the trail that the first of the government wagons followed.

From "Along the Santa Fe Trail - Marion Russell's Own Story
Adapted by Ginger Wadsworth and Illustrated by James Waitling

I remember so clearly the beauty of the earth, and how, as we bore westward, the deer and the antelope bounded away from us.  There were miles and miles of buffalo grass, blue lagoons and blood-red sunsets and, once in a while, a little sod house on the lonely prairie - home of some hunter or trapper.

Minute impressions flash before me; the sun-bonneted women, the woolen-trousered men, little mother in her flounced gingham, brother Will walking in long strides by our driver, voices of the lonely and homeless singing around blazing campfires.

The night skies and the Indian encounters inspired this block ~ Indian Star.  Marian mentions seeing the Northern Lights.  I have seen them only twice in my life.  Once as a kid, in LaJunta, CO, not far from Bent's Fort, and once as an adult while living in Carpentersville, IL.  I remember that they were brilliant in color, mostly green and a little blue, and they seemed to move.  I remember that they seemed magical and I hope to someday witness them from Alaska or even Canada...

Have you seen the Northern Lights?

Leave a comment and let me know... You know I love to hear from my readers.

Quilt Happy!


Don't forget to use the hashtags #PiecesoftheSantaFeTrail #PiecesoftheTrail #PiecesoftheTrailSewAlong and tag me on instagram @MelvaLovesScraps or share to my fb page Melva Loves Scraps 
Be sure to come back and link up your block for a chance to win a fat quarter too!  If you don't have a blog or social media account, you can email me at with pictures of your blocks and I will share your blocks and link you up for the chance to win!

Interested in the previous blocks?  You can find details for this sew along as well as the links for the first two excerpts and patterns over on the introductory post.

Linking with:

Put Your Foot Down at For the Love of Geese
Needle & Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation
BOMS Away at Katie Mae Quilts
Can I Get A Whoop Whoop at Confessions of a Fabric Addict
Off The Wall Friday with Nina Marie
Brag About Your Beauties at From Bolt to Beauty
Peacock Party at Wendy’s Quilts and More
Friday Foto Fun at Powered by Quilting
Finished or Not Friday at Alycia Quilts
Scrap Happy Saturday at Super Scrappy
UFO Busting at Tish’s Wonderland
Oh Scrap! at Quilting is More Fun Than Housework
Sunday Stash at QuiltPaintCreate
Patchwork & Quilts at The Quilting Patch
Monday Making at Love Laugh Quilt
Design Wall Monday at Small Quilts and Doll Quilts


  1. Thank you, Melva!! This is such an interesting story. I was wondering if you have yardage for the quilt calculated yet, and also if just three colors would work?? I want order some soon and really want it to be a patriotic red, white and blue! Thanks. Have a great weekend!

  2. This is a great story. Thanks for sharing the story and blocks. I haven't made any yet...but will use reproduction 1800 fabric when they are made.

  3. This story is so interesting. I eagerly await the next installment. I have never seen the Northern Lights. I live in a big city in Michigan and any time that they were supposedly going to be visible, either the lights from the city blocked the view or it was too cloud. I would love to go the Alaska and see them.

  4. Thank you for the continuing story and the new block. I saw a bit of the Northern Lights one spring night here in No. Nevada. The sky had a yellow/green glow. I sat outside watching and wondering what it was. Only the day did I learn that I was seeing the Northern lights.

  5. We see the northern lights here frequently especially in the fall and winter. They are beautiful to look at.

  6. No, I've never but I would LOVE to! It's kinda on my bucket list but not sure it'll ever happen. Sounds to me like you have to be in a cold place in order to see them and I try to stay away from cold places!! LOL

  7. As an Alaskan I see the beautiful Northern lights dancing in the night skies. It is breathtaking to say the least. Thank you for the story and block. Why is it named Indian Star?

  8. Thank you for the latest instalment of Marian's story. Life sure was hard in those times - it must have been very difficult for a lone woman with children to raise.
    My sewing room has been transformed into a guest room so it will be another week before I can get to my fabrics and sewing machine to make the block. Looking forward to adding it to the first two.

  9. Very interesting story. Hard for us to understand how truly difficult life could be during those times.

  10. Beautiful blocks. I have seen the Northern Lights once, when we were visiting Alaska, such a lovely memory!
    Thank you for linking up today ;)

  11. I really enjoyed this journal entry. Eliza must have been quite a woman to be able to face the death of a second husband as well as her father and brothers and still possess the determination to make the trip to California. This memoir would make a great mini-series. I can't wait to make the block.

  12. How cool! I am so sad that her originial step father died - but they still went on the trail - and made a great huter of her brother . What a story!

  13. Such an interesting story and beautiful quilt block as well. Thank you so much for sharing.

  14. What a great story! My great-great grandmother crossed the prairie in a covered wagon to California and kept a diary the whole way--she was about 11 at the time. We still have copies of it. Love the blocks too.

  15. I once saw Northern Lights traveling from Red Wing, Minnesota to Farmington, MN on a summer evening--this was rare and never seen again. They are common in Northern Minnesota.

  16. I almost forgot to link my block, although Mister Linky doesn't seem to want to link it.