Rosalyn’s father and mother knew their destiny did not rest within a life in Cripple Creek, Colorado. Although their dreams were those of modest expectations, the future for the family was on a dairy farm over eight hundred miles away in a remote area of Missouri. The area known as Elk River was located just south of Noel near the Arkansas border. There, on a small piece of ground, the family would build a house, raise cows, grow crops and fashion a new and better life. But the journey to Missouri would be long and difficult.
Samuel and Mary Hagerman, my great grandparents, had that pioneer spirit,
and in the summer of 1911 the couple loaded their meager belongings and daughters, twelve year old Rosalyn and eleven year old Phoebe into a covered wagon. They and their traveling companion, Mary’s brother Robert Lincoln Abraham Davis, left the mountains of Colorado with some chickens, a cow and a dream. But seeing that dream come to fruition would take all the strength and courage they had.
Samuel estimated that the trip across the Great Plains would take two months. Sometimes the wagon would travel on dirt roads, but often there were no roads. The days were hot and the winds blew the dust into the faces of the travelers. It seemed as though there was no moderation in the weather. Torrents of rain frequently flooded the fields and roads. Many times the family was forced to use their strength to pull the wagon from muddy bogs.
The days were long and the nights were short, and it seemed as though there was always work to be done. The girls usually slept in the wagon while Samuel, Mary and Robert found the ground under the wagon to be there bed. The young girls usually walked alongside the slow moving wagon and talked about the flat plains of Kansas that were so much different than the mountains of Colorado. When the plains of Kansas were left behind, the rolling hills and trees of Missouri seemed to be a welcome change.
In mid-September of 1911 the family first stepped onto the forty acres of grass and woods that would be their home for the next thirty-seven years. The family hastily erected a small cabin that would have to provide protection against the upcoming winter’s cold wind and snow. Samuel knew surviving that first winter would take all the courage the family had.
Every family member, including Phoebe and Rosalyn, were assigned tasks. Rosalyn was responsible for bringing water from a spring to the cabin. The spring was located at the bottom a steep hill that led away from the cabin. The walk from the spring and up the grade while carrying two buckets of water was very hard for a twelve year old girl, but Rosalyn knew the water was vital to the family’s survival.
The cabin was completed in early December and the family tried to prepare for the coming winter while Rosalyn continued to bring water from the spring to the cabin. The buckets of water seemed to get heavier as the cold north winds pushed against Rosalyn’s face while she climbed that hill with the buckets of water.
On Christmas Eve morning Samuel asked Rosalyn to gather up the water buckets. The two walked out of the cabin and began the descent down the hill she knew so well. But, about half way down the slope the two came upon a three legged milking stool standing on a cleared and leveled piece of ground. Samuel told Rosalyn to have a seat on the stool and said “see how it suits you”. Samuel then took the buckets from Rosalyn, walked down the hill and came back with buckets full of water.
As he approached Rosalyn he looked at her as if he was waiting for an answer to his question. After a brief silence Rosalyn casually remarked “the stool seems to suit me just fine”. Without any other words spoken Rosalyn knew there was no money for presents and this was Samuel’s gift to her. Words of gratitude in the Hagerman family were not ordinarily spoken but as she watched Samuel walk up the hill carrying the two buckets of water she knew her father was aware of her appreciation for his gift.
Rosalyn sat on the stool for a few minutes and felt a sense of relief as she imagined how much better her treks to retrieve water would be since she now had a place to rest when she climbed the steep hill. Sometimes the best Christmas presents are not found in packages wrapped with paper and bows. Those gifts can be easily forgotten over time, but the memory of a father’s thoughtful Christmas gift to his daughter lasts a lifetime.