That Enduring Pioneer Spirit

In March of 1911 an advertisement appeared in a Cripple Creek, Colorado newspaper, The Teller County News, which read as follows;

pioneer-spirir-ad

Cripple Creek was a mining town with about eight-thousand residents.  Samuel Hagerman, my great grandfather, lived there with his wife Mary, his twelve year old daughter Rosalyn and his eleven year old daughter Phoebe.  Samuel was looking for an opportunity to move away from Colorado and buy farmland in the Midwest but there was something else; Mary was ill.  She had trouble breathing in the high altitude mountains of Colorado.

Samuel gathered Mary, Phoebe and Rosalyn together and told them the family was going on a great adventure.  The family of four and Mary’s brother, Robert Lincoln Abraham Davis of Creede, Colorado who also purchased a forty acre tract of land, would embark on a great and difficult journey.  The family would load all of their belongings into a horse drawn covered wagon and embark on an eight hundred mile expedition across the Great Plains to southwest Missouri where their new farm and new life awaited their arrival.Phoebe

Samuel read the newspaper clipping to Mary and his daughters and he talked about how prosperous the family would be as crops grew with very little effort.  He spoke of raising dairy cows and told Mary she would be in better health as her breathing would be easier once they left the lofty mountains of Colorado.

The five left Cripple Creek in late June of 1911.  One lone cow followed the wagon attached only by a piece of rope to the rear.  Some chickens followed along as if somehow the fowl had been trained to shadow the group.  Samuel told everyone to expect a long and difficult journey.

As the prairie schooner crossed Colorado and rolled onto the flat plains of Kansas, the cool dry days of Colorado were nothing more than a memory.  Rosalyn and Phoebe most often walked alongside the wagon as it slowly rolled along.  On good days, and when there were dirt roads to follow, the wagon traveled fifteen or so miles. When there were no roads the passage was more arduous and the distance traveled was much less.

The darkness of night didn’t bring an end to the day. The cow and the horses needed feed and water while the seemingly self-reliant chickens seemed to fend for themselves. The blazing heat of the day was quickly vanquished when the darkness brought the cold of night.  Sleep was often interrupted by the sound of coyotes singing their nighttime melodies.

It seemed as though the days of unrelenting heat and wind that stung their sun dried and cracked skin would never end.  But, sometimes the clouds would gather and the Sun would be chased from the blackened sky.  Loud explosions of thunder frightened the animals and bright strings of lightning connected the dark ominous sky with the ground.  The wind tore at the wagon’s fragile canvass cover and the once Sun-baked and hardened Earth was transformed into a soupy concoction the wheels supporting the heavy wagon sunk into.

At night Mary prepared a camp site and cooked meals on an open fire.  The cuisine most often consisted of preserved fruit, either cooked or dried meat and bread.  The food provided sustenance, but could hardly be considered tasty.  Water was plentiful as creeks and streams were scattered along the way.  Occasionally Samuel would ask land owners for access to well water, and those strangers were most often happy to oblige.

When the weary travelers reached Missouri Rosalyn told Phoebe she would never miss the flatlands of Kansas. The family’s first glimpse of their new land, new home and new life came on September 11, 1911.  The group stopped on a hill overlooking their land and talked about the future.

The land was beautiful.  It had trees and the grass was green and thick but there was no shelter.  Samuel knew the leaves on the trees would soon turn and the cold days and nights would soon follow so the family went to work building an enclosed lean-to.  Everyone helped and soon the log constructed structure resting on Robert’s parcel of land was completed. This hastily erected structure would have to suffice as the freezing temperatures and cold winter winds would arrive all too soon.  In the spring the Hagerman’s would build a proper house that would become their permanent home while Robert would convert the lean-to into a permanent cabin

Everyone was needed to help the family survive that first winter.  The nearest source of fresh water was located at a spring that was located at the bottom of a steep hill and some distance from the cabin. Most of the food came from a small amount of staples that still remained in the wagon.

The winter was long and cold but the family survived and in the spring a small two story house was built some distance from Robert’s newly constructed cabin.  Robert continued to live in the cabin and made it his home.  Samuel cleared ground and became an accomplished farmer while Rosalyn and Phoebe attended a small school and helped out with chores.  Mary turned the house into a home and life in Missouri was good.

In 1923 Phoebe married Floyd Fine of Pineville and left the farm.  Rosalyn was twenty-four years old then and was teaching at a school in Southwest City.  When classes were over for the day and she returned to the farm she still had chores to take care of.  Life for the three was good until 1929.  That was the year of the great stock market crash.   Samuel had entrusted almost all of the family’s money to a small Arkansas bank, and overnight it was gone.  The family struggled but survived and from that point on Samuel refused to have any dealings with banks.

Samuel grew and sold vegetables and the milk that came from dairy cows and he would occasionally take on odd jobs.  Mary was happy and known to be an excellent cook.  Sunday was baking day and the aroma of Mary’s wheat bread filled the house, and floated out of the open kitchen window into the yard where Rosalyn fed the chickens.

In 1930 Samuel became ill and rather suddenly succumbed to the sickness and died.  Samuel was buried not far from the farm in Lee Cemetery situated in Checks Corner, Arkansas.  Samuel was the first of the Hagerman’s to find a peaceful resting place there.

Mary and Rosalyn kept the farm running with some occasional help from Robert, but Robert was busy trying to earn a living from his small forty acre farm.  Rosalyn left her position at the school and devoted herself completely to the farm, and to her mother.

The Hagerman story was told to me over many years by Rosalyn.  I believe she saw that I was naturally inquisitive and she knew I was someone who wanted to hear the story of the Hagerman’s, and the story of Rosalyn.  Sometimes Rosalyn would talk about a single event while during other conversations she would talk about events that took place over months or even years.  Of course the more I prodded her, the more she opened up and shared aspects of her life.

The last time I saw Rosalyn I asked why she never married.  She paused and I detected what must be described as a look of regret that came over her face.  She was now in her nineties and age had transformed her appearance dramatically.  Her voice was frail and it cracked as she spoke.  Rosalyn stared directly into my eyes and somewhat somberly declared it was time she finished imparting to me the story of her life.  It was as if she was passing to me the only thing she had left to give.

About a year before Samuel passed away Rosalyn met a young man, his name was Sydney.  Sydney’s family lived on a farm not far from the Hagerman land.  Sydney and Rosalyn spent time together and over time became close, but then Samuel died and that changed everything.

Sydney wanted to leave rural Missouri and the farm life behind.  He wanted to go on adventures and see the world and wanted Rosalyn to go with him.  Rosalyn knew her mother needed her help on the farm, especially after the death of her father, and Mary was not in good health at that time.  Rosalyn knew her duty rested at home with her mother so she said goodbye to Sydney.

After the passage of time Rosalyn received a letter from Sydney.  The letter was written in a tone that would be more often written by a friend or distant relative.  Sydney wrote that he was living in Chicago.  He wrote about the large city, the people there and how different it was from the farming communities in Missouri.  Rosalyn gave up her one chance for adventure and a life with Sydney because of her responsibilities at home.

Rosalyn continued to help Mary with the farm and life was good.  Rosalyn’s nephews and nieces occasionally visited the farm and it was nice to see happy young faces and hear children’s voices.  The children were between five and nine years old and enjoyed the Ozark hills, woods and streams.  On Saturday afternoons Rosalyn would start the old Ford Model T and drive all the children to Southwest City where the Nichol’s Brothers and Queens Stores held raffles for prizes and store coupons.

One Saturday in particular was especially memorable.  All the children were excited because Rosalyn promised to take them to town where the streets would be filled with people, and to the drug store and the soda fountain within.  The children piled into the Model T and Rosalyn started the engine.  The old ford drove down the dusty dirt roads until it came to a steep grade.  The car started up the hill but the car would not go any farther.  Some of the children talked about getting out and walking up the incline, but Rosalyn had another idea.  Rosalyn knew gasoline was sent to the engine by gravity so she turned the car around and backed up the hill.  The girls whole-heartedly believed that Rosalyn had more knowledge than anyone else in the entire world and for her no obstacle was insurmountable.  Once parked outside the store everyone leaped from the old car, pushed against each other as they squeezed through the doorway, found barstool seats at the soda fountain’s counter and ordered their favorite soda or phosphate.  Wild Cherry Phosphates were the most popular drinks that hot July day in 1939.

Robert’s health took a downward turn and he could no longer live alone on his tract of land and in 1942 he moved in with his son’s family.  Robert’s condition continued to worsen and he passed away in 1943.  The original cabin now stood empty for a time and it and the forty acres it rested on were eventually sold in 1976.

Rosalyn and Mary stayed on the farm after Robert’s death because that was their home, as it had been the home for Samuel and Phoebe.  Mary’s health began to deteriorate a few years after her brother’s death.  Her memory was leaving her and she could not be left unattended and sometimes didn’t recognize Rosalyn. In 1949 Rosalyn and Mary moved to Noel where they shared a room that had been added to Phoebe and her husband’s house.

I’m told I was taken to Noel when I was merely a few months old so Mary could see her new great grandson.  They say Mary picked me up, rocked me in her arms and gently stroked my red hair as she spoke softly to me.  Mary died several months later in 1950.  Later that same year Rosalyn sold the family farm.

Rosalyn continued to live in the room added to the house in Noel for many years.  Rosalyn and Phoebe were always sisters and best friends.  For years they were involved in various business ventures and for some time owned and operated a florist business.  Rosalyn’s sister, Phoebe died in 1975 and was buried in the Noel cemetery alongside her husband Floyd.

Rosalyn continued to live in the Noel house for the remainder of her life.  She lived an independent and full life.  Rosalyn had the respect, friendship and love of the people she knew, and she showed compassion and caring for those around her.  She was well known for her sense of fairness. Rosalyn never lost the pioneer spirit she brought from Colorado to Missouri in 1911.

During my last visit to Rosalyn’s home I asked her if she ever regretted her decision not to marry Sydney and leave the farm to which she replied, “not really”.  “I often imagined what our life would have been like.  I suppose we would have lived in a big city and Sydney would have been a successful business man and I would have taken care of our children.  I’m certain we would have been happy, and lived a long life filled with wonderful experiences.  But, although a piece of my heart left with Sydney I believe my duty was to stay on the farm and care for mama.”  I never spoke to Rosalyn again, and I regret that as I now realize I have so many more unanswered questions that only she can answer.

The saga of Samuel, Mary, Phoebe and Rosalyn Hagerman who traveled from Colorado to Missouri came to an end on July 6, 1994 with the death of Rosalyn.  She was laid to rest alongside Samuel, Mary and Robert in Lee Cemetery.  The pioneering family with the unwavering faith that a better life awaited them in Missouri was once again together. Rosalyn had a presence on this earth for over ninety-five years.  She bequeathed to me $500.00, several pieces of old and cherished glassware and the inheritance I cherish most, the story of her life.  I now respectfully share that story with each of you.

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