Thursday, October 14, 2021

Pieces of the Santa Fe Trail - Wagon Trail

In the words of Marion Russell...

Fort Union had grown.  There were more adobe buildings and better ones.  I think mother would have liked to have lingered there.  I know that Captain Shoemaker tried to induce her to stay and take some military boarders; however, she wanted to get Will and me enrolled in school as quickly as possible so we pushed on to Santa Fe.

I think I was never so glad to return to any place as I was to Santa Fe that autumn of 1860.  I brought with me many eastern ways, and a rather nice wardrobe.  At first I showed off a bit, but failing to impress either the students or sister, I forgot all about it and settled down into my uniforms and the school routine as if I had not been four year an easterner.

Mother moved again into the same house fronting the Plaza, and soon had more boarders than she could well handle.  But this time there was no adjustment period for us.  We chatted with our Mexican neighbors in their tongue.  We cooked the hot chili and ate it.  We shouldered the sleepy burros and sheep out of the way as we walked down the narrow crooked alleys... alleys that were ours by adoption.

Life slipped back easily and quickly into the worn, old groove. Some of the girls I had known four years before had grown to womanhood and had left the walls of the convent. Some of the nuns had been sent to other schools and new sisters had taken their places. I remember how we day pupils ate our lunches in the little refectory in the side yard of the Academy. And how when the sisters left us for a moment we would all begin laughing and telling stories. The gossip we repeated was a bit different from the gossip in Leavenworth. One girl would whisper that while the Navahos tried to be on good terms with the white folks, they were really spies and not to be trusted. Another one told of how an old Indian woman had stolen her mother's red mother hubbard (a long, loose-fitting, shapeless woman's dress or undergarment) right off the clothes line. Another girl whispered that the strangers in town, the ones with the wide leather belts and strange looking trousers and the spurs that jangled, were Mexican guerrillas from old Mexico.

One more happy year passed thus in Santa Fe, town of manana (Spanish for tomorrow).  Then again mother conceived the idea of returning once again to Leavenworth.  I really do not know why she wanted to go back but I think it was the lure of the trail that drew her.  I know she loved Santa Fe and liked living there, but at heart my mother was a nomad.  She gaily betook herself back and forth over the trail on first one pretext and then another.  Who am I to condemn her, when today I would rather embark in a prairie schooner for parts unknown than to embark on white wings for a place in the skies called Heaven!

Sometimes today I am reminded of what the Indians told us about the scrub cedar - I think the cedar tree reminds me of mother.  They said the cedar tree had power to close its branches on the approach of a snow storm, that way the snow fell only on the sides of the slender leaves.  I have seen the cedar trees lifting up their boughs and turning the edges of their leaves to meet the falling snow.  I have seen my mother lifting up her heart in an attitude of prayer that always helped her to bear what misfortune brought her.  Today when I think of my pioneer mother I feel a joy unspeakable.

So once more we embarked in an eastern wagon train bearing cargo from far away California.  Mule-drawn the wagons lid easily down to the cluster of huts on the Purgatoire.  Many houses had sprung up there like little mud-colored mushrooms.  There was a frontier store and a quaint Catholic church.  We forded the river and camped this time on the northern bank beneath the tall, white bluff.

While we loitered around the fires that evening an old Mexican, wearing the tattered remains of a sombrero, slouched beneath the taut ropes of our wagon-corral and came toward us.  He told us that the cluster of mud huts was call Trinidad, and the river was called the Purgatoire.  The early Spaniards had called it El Rio de las Animas Perdidas en Purgatoris, the River of Lost Souls in Purgatory.  When we asked him why it was so called, he said that many moons ago a tribe of cruel Comanches was forced by the Great Spirit to live forever beneath the surface of the earth, never again to see the light of day.

The old Mexican believed the Indian myth of the lost Indian tribe because there were places along the river where one might still hear strange sounds like the moans and curses of a people in pain.  I remember how Will and I smiled at the story told by the old Mexican.  In later years I was to be perplexed  myself at hearing strange sounds like moans and curses coming from beneath the earth at places along the banks of the Purgatoire.

Even a year had wrought a change along the trail.  We found a bit of plowed land here and there, black strips traversing our sea of silver grass.  On the plains of Kansas the white men were killing the buffalo, killing them ruthlessly and in great numbers.  

This time mother moved to Kansas City.  Once more I entered school, and Will found employment on the Kansas City Journal.  He spent all his spare time that winter studying for the ministry.  In the spring he united with the First Baptist Church.  However, when Civil War came upon us he joined a Kansas regiment and marched away to war. 

I remember how he smiled at us and how mother tried to keep smiling.  I tried to take my cue from them, and the last morning I stood beside mother as Will was leaving.  I stood very straight and returned smile for smile while I wondered if I would ever see my brother come marching back again.  Had we known, Mother and I, that we were not to see him again for fifty long years, perhaps we would not have been able to keep up the smiling.

Before those fifty years were ended Will was to have fought through the War, been ordained a Baptist minister, sent as a missionary to Calcutta, India, and then sent as a minister to Mexico City, Mexico.

He was stationed in Mexico City when that place was stirred by a great religious riot.  With his own two hands he rang the first Protectant church bell in that city.  Later he was ordered back to the States.  Finally Will did the thing that surprised us all.  He renounced the Baptist Church and united with the Catholic Church.  He never in after years discussed his strange conduct.  I cannot explain to you what I never understood myself.  Will was always honest and sincere.  Religion was the guiding motive of his life.  Perhaps the seed planted by Father Lamy in his heart so long ago had born fruit at last.  Always I remember his childish prayer, "Please God, may I some day see your face."

The Wagon Trail block representing this part of the journey that Marion and her family made is a variation of the Jacob's Ladder block with a fun combination of 4-patch and half-square triangle units.  

Marion has stated several times before that New Mexico had captured her heart and she longed to live in Santa Fe.  Before you go, tell me...

Is there a specific place that you long to settle?  
Or even repeatedly visit because of a special connection you feel when you are there?

Leave a comment... I'd love to hear from you!

Stay pieceful,


Get your pattern, make your block and then share it!  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!

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  1. I can't wait to catch up on these blocks! I love this story so much, and the blocks are simply beautiful.
    I long to be back home where I grew up in northeastern Oklahoma, but I also have a pull to New Mexico, especially the northern part - Las Vegas, Raton, Red River, etc.

  2. I'm not finding the pattern link, but I sure enjoyed reading this excerpt. And, I missed the Comfort of Home link up (sigh).

  3. Hi Melva. I went to download the block this morning but the link is not clickable. Thank you for this series.

  4. I long to settle by the ocean. Somewhere between the Outer Banks of North Carolina and New Bern, North Carolina. I love the sound of the waves, the smell of the salt air, the soft sand between my toes, and the beautiful blue view as far as the horizon. It will never happen for me but I can dream it.

  5. Good morning. I am unable to download this block. I am trying to keep up with the quilt along. Please advise how to obtain this next block. Love the story. Thank you.

    Trudy Double

  6. Basically any nature/natural made places. I especially love mountains, lakes, streams & waterfalls. Specific places are Michigan's Upper Peninsula and the New England area.

  7. I am not finding the link for the block. The highlighted text above the picture of the block doesn't go anywhere when I click on it.

  8. We lived for over 37 years in the Walla Walla, WA area and found it beautiful, as well as good shopping opportunities. There are many quilt shops in the area as well. Circumstances have led us away from there, and I miss my quilt guild there, as well as my friends.

  9. Thanks for another excerpt and block, Melva! I really enjoy Marion's writings. We have always loved the Great Smoky Mountains of TN. We try to visit at least once a year! For me, there is such a peacefulness in the mountains. If I were to settle someplace besides where I am, it would be there!!

  10. Hi Melva! This block is such a stunning block, I think. I've always wanted to make a Jacob's Ladder quilt but it hasn't made it to the top of the list yet. I am enjoying this series as much as the Pieces one. Thank you so much for all the hard work you've put into making this a success. Maybe there will be another book in your very near future. Yay you for getting the Sunflower quilt all quilted and on its way home. ~smile~ Roseanne

  11. I have an affinity for Williamsburg, VA.

  12. Love this block...and the story...such an interesting trail of stories right from the beginning! Thank you!

  13. We are native Michiganders and love our state. But we have been traveling more and more to Washington and Oregon states as our daughter and family have moved out there. So much to explore!

  14. Thank you for another fascinating excerpt from Marion's diary. I am content to be back living in my home town here in England but there is a part of me that would love to live in Wales. We had many holidays exploring different parts of Wales and I find the Welsh language very intriguing.

  15. Loving the memories of Marion. I love Aviemore and am usually lucky enough to visit several times a year, but now haven't been for two years and I'm really missing it.