by Raymond Cook
© 2017 (All Rights Reserved)
Page Length: 284
Word Count: 91,000
That evening everyone made camp and something went terribly wrong for the Harris family. Noah, his wife and their six children were sick, sick bad. When news the family was ill reached Rickie, he immediately went to their wagon to find out whether the rest of them were in danger of the same thing. What he learned of their symptoms was they all had a high fever, chills, headaches, back pain, stomach pain and couldn’t keep food down.
Rickie wished he was wrong but knew he wasn’t. These folks had small pox and it was contagious. People either survived the illness or died. Rickie told Noah what he thought was ailing his family and what he wanted him to do. Rickie would harness up his horses for him, so he could make camp 300 feet from the main camp. He could still follow behind them when they left in the morning, but he had to stay well behind them.
He also told Noah Fort Zarah was a day’s journey from where they were camped. He was told not to approach the fort. He told Noah and his wife that if this was the first day they felt ill that in two or three days they’d feel better but a rash would suddenly appear. A few days later the rash would break out into abscesses and scab over. If they indeed had small pox he wouldn’t allow them to re-join the wagon train until he was sure the scabs, all the scabs had fallen off.
That meant his wife, Mary would have to inspect Annabelle’s body and her daughter’s body to make sure all of their scabs had fallen off. Their children were crying inside their wagon and both parents were getting washrags wet to put on their children’s foreheads. True to his word Rickie harnessed their horses to their wagon and took them 100 yards away from the main camp. Everyone who learned the family had small pox felt sad and scared. They wondered if they too would get small pox.
The mood of the entire camp was somber including Parson Willard. He wanted to go to the family and pray with them but was afraid he too would become ill. When the wagon train reached Fort Zarah, Rickie immediately went to the commanding officer’s office. He said he had a family with small pox but they were camped away from the fort. When Noah’s wagon saw Fort Zarah ahead of them he also saw where the wagon train made camp.
He stopped his wagon near the Arkansas River well away from everyone. In spite of the small pox affecting their bodies both parents did all they could to break their children’s fever and get them to eat and keep their food down. Rickie kept everyone camped by the river for three days. During that time the family seemed to feel better, that was before rashes began to break out all over their bodies.
When Rickie came to their wagon he felt terrible seeing how Noah and his wife looked and how weak they were. But there wasn’t a thing he could do for them even if they had a doctor with them. He told the couple they were leaving for Great Bend which was three miles away. It was just a small trading post and they weren’t stopping. Pawnee rock was 14 miles further and they’d make camp before they reached that spot.
He asked the couple whether they wanted to stay where they were until they got better or if they wanted to try to follow them. It was heart breaking to watch the couple hug each other with sores as their children cried inside their wagon. Together they looked at Noah and Annabelle cried out, “We don’t want to be left behind. We’ll never be able to catch up and will die along the way or be killed by Indians.”
Rickie nodded and promised to harness their horses for them in the morning when they were ready to leave. Mary was still crying holding her handkerchief when she saw her husband walking back to their wagon. She ran to him and hugged him as her body trembled. “What did they say and how bad did they look?” Mary cried out. “They’ve got small pox alright and I saw the scabs on their faces and arms. No doubt they got them all over their bodies. The same with their children and it broke my heart hearing them suffer.
Noah’s wife says they want to go on and I promised to harness their horses for them come morning. I can’t just leave them behind when they paid money to me to get them to Denver. I can’t keep them alive longer than God wills it but I can take them with us until they can’t go on. Then it’s in God’s hands,” Rickie said with a heavy sigh. Suddenly Mary hugged her husband said, “I don’t want them to die!” Rickie passed the word to the rest of the families.
There was a mixed reaction among the families between fear they too would come down with small pox and those who hoped and prayed the family would survive. Two days later they left Pawnee Rock behind. They passed through Great Bend without stopping. They went as many miles as they could before making camp. In the distance Noah’s wagon was stopped but his horses were still hitched to the wagon. He was too weak to unhitch or water them.
Rickie unhitched the team, used a rope off the side of their wagon wheel to let both horses graze and filled both water buckets so they could drink. Everyone was inside the wagon and only tears were heard. It was hard to do but Rickie called out in a kind voice and asked, “Is everything okay?” When he saw Noah’s face poke out from behind the canvas flaps of the bonnet his face was covered with open sores as tears flowed down his cheeks.
“Three of our children have passed away and I’m going to have to bury my own children,” he tearfully said. Noah’s wife was sobbing and it broke Rickie’s heart. “I’ll drop your back gate right and help get those children out of your wagon. I’ll dig their graves and if you and your wife can stand beside their graves we’ll say some prayers before I bury them. If you can’t get to the ground I’ll say prayers for you,” Rickie said in a compassionate voice.
Not a word was heard at that moment, only the sounds of a family grieving over the loss of their children and siblings. Suddenly, Rickie heard the sounds of movement inside the wagon and one side of a canvas flap was pulled back and tied off. Then Noah tied back the other side. The first child’s body pulled towards the back gate and gently laid down was Caleb, the couple’s oldest son. Rickie put his hands under the boy’s body and laid him down 25 feet from their wagon.
The next body laid down was his sister Martha who was eight. A father’s tears fell upon her body too as he bent over to lay her down. The last child’s name was David and he was six years old. Families from the main camp watched each body carried away and the sight filled them with sadness. Parson Willard was staring too and his Bible was in his left hand. No men began walking towards the stricken family’s wagon to help bury their children nor did the parson step forward.
The truth was, he was as scared as everyone else that he might catch small pox and die too. But before Rickie took off the shovel off the side of the family’s wagon to begin digging the first grave, Parson Willard’s desire to do God’s work overpowered his fear for his own life. Suddenly, everyone in camp saw the parson making his way through the brown grass to pray over the graves.
Women were weeping and seeing the sadness in camp would’ve brought anyone to tears. Parson Willard set his Bible down on the back gate and untied the straps to the other side of the wagon holding another shovel. Then he made his way to where Rickie was digging. No words were spoken between the two men, only a nod and a wipe of their brows. As the first grave was being dug heart wrenching voices of Aaron and Martha was heard crying out, “I don’t want my sister and brother to be dead!”
Lord knows the burden the parson and wagon master carried on their shoulders but most of Noah’s family. No pain hurts more than the loss of a child. Suddenly, Noah appeared at the edge of the canvas bonnet as he pulled back the flap. With tears falling down his cheeks covered in sores he pleaded with both men to help him and his family down when it came time to say prayers.
Both men promised they would. After the last grave was dug and both shovels were pushed into loose dirt Parson Willard nodded to Rickie. Slowly they lifted each body up by their arms and legs and lowered them into each hole. Then the parson knelt down and folded each child’s arms over their chests. After wiping their brows again they made their way to the back of the covered wagon. “We’re ready to help you folks out,” Parson Willard said in a sympathetic voice.
At that moment, catching small pox was the last thing on either man’s minds. To them the rest of the family could die over the next few days too but they had a duty to help them be at their children’s burial. Noah awkwardly stood on the wagon gate first. As he looked behind him he took his wife’s hand and helped her keep her balance. Parson Willard helped her to the ground and she held onto the edge of the gate.
Next to be helped down was Aaron who was twelve. When Marybeth came out, she was holding her brother, Jacob, who was eight months old. He was bundled up in a shawl and had five or more sores on his face. She handed the baby to her mother and Rickie helped her to the ground. The only person needing to be helped down now was Noah and both men helped him down.
Slowly, the family made their way over to the three graves with Marybeth sobbing the loudest. Parson Willard made his sermon short, much shorter than he would’ve liked because he knew the family couldn’t stand for that long. With his Bible open he began, “Lord, since becoming your servant I’ve had time to reflect on your scriptures for guidance during times I’ve witnessed someone being buried.
But at this moment that time’s slipped away and I find myself beside a grieving family who’ve lost three of their children. Some distance away from us are 52 families fearing the small pox this family is afflicted with will spread to them too. The Bible shows us in many passages that you sympathize with us when we suffer but you also empathize with us for our losses. Your only begotten son Jesus died on the cross for our sins.
I ask you in Jesus’s name to spare the rest of this family and the other families from this disease. Help this family to heal from their sores and regain their strength so they can be welcomed back into camp. This family left their home, most of their possessions and their friends in the hopes traveling across the plains would offer them a better life in Colorado.
Though they knew the dangers of tornados, wildfires, river crossings and attacks by Indians their spirits remained strong. But disease is something none of us can see coming or stop from happening. These three children placed in the ground attests to that Lord. For this family, tomorrow holds darkness and I beseech you Lord to turn their darkness into light. Please help them heal. Please give them hope. In Jesus’s name we pray for your mercy, Amen.”
Has God Forsaken Me? is my newest 2017 emotion-filled western frontier eBook. I’ve made this comment section so I can share with visitors to my website what readers feel about this particular eBook. To share your comments too, just send me an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Has God Forsaken me? Amazon Comment…
Kindle Customer on July 20, 2017 WOW! What a wonderful story. I feel the author’s choice to depict Florence Thompson as the mother in “Has God Forgotten Me?” was perfect. Journeying across the Kansas plains in the 1890’s was a brutal journey. This author’s story kept me turning the pages and wiping my eyes following Noah, Annabelle, and their children from Missouri to Colorado.
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