Thursday, November 4, 2021

Pieces of the Santa Fe Trail - New Mexican Star


In the words of Marion Sloan Russell...   

Mother had great expectations.  Although she was home sick for Santa Fe and the old trail she was determined to stay in Kansas City until I should marry well.

There was no one with a future out west, so she said.  She encouraged many people to come to our home and the evenings were almost literary events.

A tall young man with dark commanding eyes came there one evening.  He carried Harriet Beecher Stowe's newest book "Dred"  under his arm.  The young man's name was Gerald Roberts, and he read "Dred" aloud to us that evening.  Gerald was in the mercantile business and was of superior financial and social standing.  Perhaps mother could be forgiven for having encouraged his visits.  I remember how flustered I was when his dark eyes rested long upon me.  He was not long asking my hand in marriage.  it was long ago, but I remember him standing holding my hand in his saying, "Miss Sloan, will you do me the honor to become my wife?"  I stuttered and stammered and said, "Ask mother."  The ring that he gave me was a diamond and I liked the feel of it on my finger.

I thought mother looked relieved, and I was a bit hurt when she said, "After your wedding, I think I shall go west again."  Go west without me?  Such nonsense!  The days that followed were most unhappy with mother planning my wedding with the left ventricle of her heart, while she used the big right one to plan going out west.  Sometimes I would take off the hoops and the bustle, and then I would remove the diamond and lay it upon them.  No one would want to wear diamond rings and hoopskirts in an old covered wagon.

Spring came.  It was 1862 and mother was going to Santa Fe.  I was supposed to stay in Kansas City with Gerald who would soon be my husband.  I just couldn't stand it.  One evening I followed Gerald out on the stoop to say a good night and good bye forever.  I left the ring with him and turned away from the hurt in his eyes to go tell mother that I was surely going to Santa Fe with her.  For the first time she seemed disgusted.  "I have tried so hard to do well by you," she muttered.  Dear Mother!  She did better by me than she dreamed when she let me go with her.

We missed Will sadly on this fifth trip over the trail.  There have been many things in my life that I have striven to forget, but not those trips over the trail.  The lure the old trail held for us.  Seems that folks who made those trips in covered wagons never forgot them...

When I think of the Santa Fe trail I think of my own mother, and how she was never quite happy unless she were passing back and forth over it... or planning to.

In later years she was at last enabled to go out to California, the end of the rainbow!  She found there the gold of peace and plenty.  Her life ended there and she sleeps today by the waters of the blue Pacific.

While this trip of 1862 was my last trip over the Santa Fe trail, it was not mother's last one.  She made several trips after I was married to Lieutenant Russell and settled down in New Mexico. 

It was at Fort Union in the year of 1864 that I first met Lieutenant Richard D. Russell.  I was rounding a corner rather suddenly, my green veil streaming out behind me.  The wind was blowing my hair in my eyes and I was trying to keep my long skirts where they belonged when suddenly he stood before me.  That was the moment the whole wide, world stood still.  My tall, young lieutenant stood and smiled at me while I struggled with my skirts, veil and hair.  Then on he marched with his company, taking my ignorant young heart right along with him.  For days the memory of his smile came between me and my prayers.  Almost immediately he made an opportunity to be formally presented.  Mother, it seemed to me, found many occasions to compare my lieutenant favorably with Gerald Roberts.  Love, they say is like the measles:  We take it only once.  Cupid spends no second arrow on our hearts.  I am sure that was true in my case, for from that August day when I met Richard on the streets of old Fort Union, to that other August day twenty-three years later when an assassin's bullet took him from me, my love never faltered.  Indeed, that love is a living part of the soul of me today, although the grass has waved over my lieutenant these forty years and more.

Richard was born in Canada in 1839.  He was six years older than I.  One evening he sat in our house at Fort Union and told mother and me about his adventurous life.  Mother said she knew that evening that Richard had fallen in love with me.  He told her how his parents had been visiting relatives in Canada when he was born, and how he had always regretted the fact that he had been born outside the United States.

When he was sixteen, Richard, in company with another young boy, ran away from his father's home in Illinois, and wandered west with an emigrant trail to California.  That was in the year 1855.  He said that he would never forget the long, hard trip across the lava beds of Indian Country and Arizona, for like all the boys he had walked most of the way beside the driver.

Reaching California he had sought first the gold fields but had no luck finding the elusive yellow metal.  So he obtained employment on a cattle ranch.  As soon as he was old enough, he homesteaded on the Sacramento River.  He built a cabin there and several miles of stake-and-rider fence to hold his little herd of Texas long-horns.  About that time war drums began sounding, and Richard sold his little ranch and enlisted with the First California Volunteers.  Richard was always a pioneer, and not a soldier at heart.  He loved the wide open spaces and like pulling up stakes and moving westward a few jumps ahead of civilization.  The old pioneers were a restless lot of nomads; yet they watered the seeds of freedom with their own hearts blood.

The First California Volunteers were ordered immediately to New Mexico, where General Carleton was having a bad time with the Indians.  The Confederates were, at that time, holding Albuquerque, and they were inciting the Comanches and Apaches to deeds of horrible violence.  The coming of the First California Volunteers forced the Confederates to evacuate Albuquerque and retreat southward.  General Carleton was then embraced in the territory call New Mexico.  It was a dreary, thirsty land of 20,000 whites and 40,000 Indians.  The whites kept together near the forts, and were always more or less in terror when it was necessary to leave the forts' protection.  

When September rolled around, mother moved again to Santa Fe.  I was sick at heart because so far she had never permitted Richard and me a moment alone together.  Always we were chaperoned; always mother or some elderly couple was with us.  Only our eyes could speak of the dawning love in our young hearts.

We moved to Santa Fe and a whole week passed, and I had not heard from my lover.  Then one morning a great caravan was sighted coming in from Fort Union.  I thought surely there would be a letter for me from Richard so I dressed up a bit and walked to the post office.  I stood waiting among the jostling throng until my turn came at the window.  There was no letter for Miss Marion Sloan.  No news from my tall lieutenant.

I recall that I had dressed with special care that morning.  My dress was of factory-woven cloth, in what they then called cotton challis.  It was a glorious dress of a soft golden color.  It had a tight little bodice buttoned down the front with little jeweled buttons.  The sleeves were long and close-fitting.  At my throat was cream lace ruching and mother's cameo brooch.  The skirt of my long dress had many fluttering ruffles.  That day at the post office lies in my memory as a faint and sweet as the scent of old lavender.  I had turned sadly from the post office window and was starting homeward when some one came up behind me and drew my hand through his ar.  I turned quickly.  It was Richard.  He had come with the emigrant train from Fort Union.  My heart overflowing with joy, I went where he led me and soon we were standing beneath the great wooden arch on the outskirts of Santa Fe.  We were alone for the first time since the day of our meeting.

Eastward the wide trail flowed like a river.  From the blue hills came the tinkle of sheep bells.  It was the close of an Indian summer day; it was also the close of my girlhood.  Standing for one brief forbidden moment within the circle of Richard's young arms I seemed to see a little girl with long brown braids dressed in a blue pinafore.  I saw her standing before me, then she slipped away in the shadows along the trail.  Little Maid Marion, as the soldiers at the Forts along the trail had called me for all the ten years they had known me, had slipped away among the shadows.

Six months from the day of our meeting Richard and I were married in the little military chapel at Fort Union; that was in February of 1865.  I was twenty.  Mother had sent to Kansas City for my trousseau.  I still think it was very lovely.  My wedding dress was of soft beige and fitted my slender figure.  My hat, adorned with a single white feather, was small and turned away from my face at one side.  My cape of blue velvet covered me from tip to toe.  Such an elegant costume for a bride in New Mexico in the "60s!"

I am afraid I did not hear a great deal of our wedding ceremony, for something sacred and triumphant was going on in my heart.  Somewhere on the hills of God, angels were singing; all the bells of Heaven were ringing.  I heard Richard's deep voice beside me saying over and over, "I do" and "I do."  Then all at once we were outside in the patio, and fine white snow was blowing little drifts in the folds of my new velvet cape.  There were tears in mother's eyes but Richard held my hand tightly.  I was Mrs. Richard Russell.

From our wedding in February 1865, until May of that year, Richard and I lived in Fort Union.  Our honeymoon in the old fort was a happy one.  Our living quarters were next door to those of Colonel Carson's.  I was the only white woman in the fort and the soldiers made much of me.  I remember how some of the soldiers gave me their money on pay day and asked me to take care of it for them.  They were all given to gambling.

Sometimes I would ride horseback around the fort, but never alone and never far distant.  It was too dangerous.  The Apaches were growing bolder and more and more cruel.  The Comanches were driving off sheep and cattle.  Emigrant trains were being cruelly harassed.

These emigrant trains, flowing in a continual stream along the great artery of travel between the Mississippi River and the coast of California, required the protection of soldiers.  Fresh water springs through New Mexico and Arizona were always 20 and sometimes 40 miles apart.  To overcome this shortage of water a continuous line of military posts and a system of artesian wells were planned.  Of the military posts thus planned Camp Nickols was the first to be built east of Fort Union.  It was completed in June of 1865 and was abandoned in September of that same year.

In May after our marriage Richard was ordered to go and help in the building of Camp Nickols... I was determined to go with him.  I knew that Colonel Carson would not think it was very safe, so I began planning on how I might get his consent.  I asked him to come to our quarters and be guest of honor at a little dinner party.  I knew he like my cooking, which he said was just like my mother's.  That evening i prepared the pot-roasted buffalo meat the way I knew that he loved, with the red chili pods mixed with it.  He watched me and smile gravely as I presided.  I think that he saw through my little ruse, but enjoyed it.  When our other guests had gone, he did not wait for me to broach the subject, but told me kindly and firmly that it was no use coaxing.  I can see him yet as he laid a kindly hand on my shoulder; I can hear his kindly voice saying, "I promised your mother I would look out for you, Marion.  You are safer here than at Camp Nickols."  He stood under the hanging coal oil lamp in our quarters, a slight man with a frown between eyes that showed an infinite capacity for tenderness.  When he saw the tears that were gathering he said, "Little Maid Marion, believe me I will take you out to Camp Nickols as soon as it is safe for you there."  Years later I was to go to the ruins of Fort Union and find the little roofless room where Colonel Carson had stood that May day refusing me the one thing on earth that I wanted.

By the middle of June 1865, Colonel Carson, true to his word came to get me.  Richard came with him and a small detachment of soldiers.  My trunk and personal effects were placed in an army wagon.  I rode on a dappled gray mare beside Richard and Colonel Carson.  The ride to Camp Nickols remains as clear in my mind today as the day I took it.  

When we reached Camp Nickols no house had yet been finished.  Several hundred army tents were being used as quarters.  Colonel Carson had a tent erected next to his own for Richard and me.  The weather was very warm, and we kept the sides of the tent rolled up to catch the stray breezes.  So also did Colonel Carson, and I remember seeing him lying on his cot on hot afternoons scanning the countryside with a pair of field glasses.

One morning the Colonel came leading his big black horse by the bridle.  "Little Maid Marion," he said, "I have come to say Good-bye."  I watch him as he rode away.  The picket on the western lookout arose as he passed and saluted.  The black horse mingled with mirage on the horizon and thus it was that Kit Carson rode out of my life forever.  I was destined never to see his face again.

Richard and I did not live long in a tent.  A nice dugout was soon made for us.  It had a dirt floor and a dirt roof.  The door was an army blanket.  Our bed was some cedar boughs, nice and springy.  We had a folding army table and two folding camp stools.

I really had no work to do and I read and reread every book and paper the camp afforded.  Our mail was irregular, arriving from Fort Union by express, and by wagon train from the east.

A soldier was assigned us as cook.  He prepared his savory stews on a Dutch oven outside as we had no stove.  He carried water from the river in a great wooden bucket, and was always trying to cook something nice and special for me.  Our bill-of-fare was monotonous:  hard tack, beans, coffee, venison or beef.  A beef herd had been brought from Fort Union, and the scouts killed both deer and antelope for us.

When a freight wagon arrived one day from Fort Union, Richard bought $42.00 worth of groceries and we ate the lot in 10 days.  A number two can of peaches cost us $2.00 and everything else was in proportion.

... Richard was ordered to lead an escort eastward (to Fort Larned).  He was to join Captain Strom and return to Camp Nickols with him.  Of course I was not permitted to go with him, although I thought that my dappled mare and I would have made a nice escort for anybody.  I said Goodbye to Richard bravely, for I expected he would be back in two weeks yet it was more than a month before he returned to me.  

One evening after Richard had been gone for what seemed like an eternity, I climbed up on top of the dugout and sat there watching the Santa Fe Trail which lay like a discarded ribbon flung eastward by a giant hand.  The prairies lay bathed in the red sunset.  My heart ached from days of weary waiting.  As I sat there I saw a wagon train coming, many hundreds of wagons escorted by a detachment of soldiers.  There were wagons drawn by mules, oxen and horses.  There was a great herd of cattle.  Soldiers rode in dusty ranks on either side of the caravan.  Trembling I arose to my feet as the caravan drew nearer.  A dust lieutenant swept me a grand gesture at the gate of the fort.  Lieutenant R.D. Russell had returned to his waiting bride in Camp Nickols!

There was another officer somewhat older than Richard in Camp Nickols, one DeHague, also a Lieutenant.  He and Richard spent many pleasant hours planning on what they would do once they were mustered out of the army. They decided they would go in together in the mercantile business.  I think that I never really liked DeHague, and looking back on those days at Camp Nickols the memory of the man DeHague is the only unpleasant one that I have.

In September 1865 orders came from Colonel Carson to break camp at Fort Nickols and return at once to Fort Union.  No sooner had we reached Fort Union than Richard had orders to proceed to Fort Bascom, a small outpost on the Canadian River in eastern New Mexico... It was a picturesque place among low, rolling foothills.  Here the officer's quarters, as at Fort Union, were made of logs, and arranged in a square around the parade ground.  In the center of the parade ground stood a tall flag pole with Old Glory always waving.

For a time I was the only white woman in Fort Bascom; some miles above the fort, however, lived a pioneer family by the name of Dorsett.  Mrs. Dorsett was a jolly young woman with a red, round face.  She had four little children all with tow-colored hair and small turned-up sun-blistered noses.  I saw as much of Mrs. Dorsett as I could, for I was so lonely.  Later I was to owe much to Mrs. Dorsett's skill as a mid-wife.

We had come to Fort Bascom in September of 1865 and my baby came in March of 1866.  Because I was ignorant, I rode horseback up until the day of my baby's birth.  Richard and I were dumb children embarked on life's greatest adventure.

Convent raised, my knowledge of childbirth was limited.  I really was not sure that I was to have a baby.  I had no clothes prepared for its coming.  One morning in March as I sang at my work in the kitchen, I was struck with a bolt from the blue.  My baby was coming.  They rushed me to the hospital where the young army surgeon was reduced to a hopeless wreck before my ordeal had really begun.  Richard had a messenger dispatched for Mrs. Dorsett and she arrived with a bundle of worn, little baby clothes under her arm.  From my window I saw her arrival, riding sideways on a shaggy pony.  Her blue calico dress fluttered in the wind.  'Twas a wild, March morning that my baby came to me.  Even today the sound of the moaning wind brings back to me memory of that incredible suffering.

Hattie Eliza Russell was a big baby, and she tore her way into existence.  The angels of life and death wrestled in that little pioneer fort over he life and over mine.  It was due to Mrs. Dorsett's skill that I lived to hear the tiny, pleading wail of my first baby.  Strange it was but at the sound of that wail, a half-smothered cry, a great revulsion passed through me.  I would have nothing to do with my child.  I loathed and hated the thing that had caused me so much cruel suffering.  Mrs. Dorsett, with kindly understanding, wrapped up the mite of humanity and took it home with her.  So Hattie Eliza took her first horseback ride the day she was born.  Contented, I turned on my side and fell asleep.  When I awoke it was quite dark.  I heard the measured footsteps of the sentry pacing up and down outside the hospital.  I thought of the tumble weeds which were rolling out on the dark prairie between me and Hattie Eliza.  Mother-love flared into being.  I wanted my baby.  When morning cam Richard went for her.  I will never forget the strength in her baby fingers as she wound them around my forefinger.  I wondered if she knew how I had felt about her.  Compunction overtook me.

As the hot summer wore on Hattie Eliza grew peevish and I spent most of my time bending over her cradle.  She had grown to be a pretty child with the large dark eyes of my mother.  The new-born look had left her small face and her round, little head was covered with ringlets.  One August morning I thought she was sleeping too long.  I went and lifted her from her cradle.  it was a long, long time before I could realize that I held in my arms a little, dead baby.  I stood and held her, saying nothing until Richard came and took her from me.

After that, life was horribly empty at Fort Bascom.  Day succeeded day and I found no joy in the common tasks that awaited me.  Richard watched me with pity, and at last asked for a leave of absence that he might take me to Santa Fe.  It had been months since I had been outside the fort and in spite of myself I enjoyed the long horseback ride to Santa Fe.

When our leave of absence was over I found a new side-saddle on my dappled gray.  It was Richard's gift to me, and he could not have given me anything I would have appreciated more.  

While Marion's mother had tears in her eyes, Marion and Richard had stars in theirs.  The New Mexican Star is representative of this excerpt.

I recall details of when Dave and I first met on the campus of Trinidad State Junior College, the first dance of the school year as well our first date (we walked to the local DQ for ice cream after dinner in the cafeteria).  Our wedding day was memorable as well.  I was so happy!  Dave was as well... to the point of tears (though only after the ceremony).  I was excited to begin our life together as Mr. & Mrs. and it wasn't until years later that it occurred to me that my parents were probably in tears as we pulled out of my childhood home to live 1,200 miles away.  We have shared our story with our girls.  

Have you recorded the story of meeting your love?  

I hope you have.  Now, I do realize that not everyone has "fairy-tale" love stories in their lives... however, your stories make up YOU!  And YOUR story is worth recording.  I have a document over in my pay-hip store, Priceless Conversations that will help you do just that.  The document is free and is a valuable and easy to use tool that includes questions for you to answer. 

Now is the time to get your pattern (and the Priceless Conversations document), 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!

Keep Piecing,


Linking with:
Put Your Foot Down at For the Love of Geese
Needle & Thread Thursday at My Quilt Infatuation
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


  1. What a sad story about Marion's baby. :( I love her love story. I have often thought of my parents since my husband and I married back in 1969. We didn't move that far away, but I remember how wonderful they were helping me plan the wedding and making our dream come true in spite of the fact our church was undergoing renovation. We had a chance to "repay" their selfless actions when our daughter got married. We ended up doing the bulk of required cleanup at the venue after her wedding while his folks partied down - lol! Our daughter never knew about it, and we will never tell her. ;)

  2. Mother died the July before I met my future adn still present hubby that fall. We married the following fall. I sure missed her help at that time. Being the youngest of 4 I had been babied by her, such empty next syndrome! In so many ways I was not prepared.

    1. I am so sorry that she never had the opportunity to meet him. My mother-in-law passed away when her youngest was just 17. She lived with the oldest sister after that and still has mother/daughter type relationship with her.

  3. Life is a combination of adventure, joys, and sometimes, unfortunately, heartache. I'm glad Marion was able to persevere through it all! I have loved this story and am going to have to find this book! Thanks for sharing the adventure and the patterns, Melva! I hope one day to make all these blocks!

  4. That was quite a tale Marion told! We were married in February during an awful snow storm. We had to delay the service until our friends got to the church (about 45 mins away). No throwing of rice for us! But it was good we married when we did because my father-in-law was diagnosed with cancer two weeks later, and passed away 4 months later.

  5. What a great story! Marion really had an adventure.
    Thanks for the pattern. I am making a scrappy sampler quilt and would love to add this one to it.

  6. There was so much in this excerpt, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The block was a fun one to make! Thanks, Melva!