October 1988

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A New Home: Who'll Follow

Life in the Clearings


Caroline M. Kirkland

First published in 1839
Click here for an index to the chapters of A New Home.

Chapter 10

Moving Day on the Wilderness Road

At length came the joyful news that our movables had arrived in port; and provision was at once made for their transportation to the banks of the Turnip. But many and dire were the vexatious delays, thrust by the cruel Fates between us and the accomplishment of our plan; and it was not till after the lapse of several days that the most needful articles were selected and bestowed in a large waggon which was to pioneer the grand body. In this waggon had been reserved a seat for myself, since I had far too great an affection for my chairs and tables, to omit being present at their debarkation at Montacute, in order to ensure their undisturbed possession of the usual complement of legs. And there were the children to be packed this time, little roley poley things, whom it would have been in vain to have marked "this side up," like the rest of the baggage.

A convenient space must be contrived for my plants among which were two or three tall geraniums and an enormous Calla Ethiopica. Then D'Orsay must be accommodated, of course, and, to crown all, a large basket of live fowls; for we had been told that there was none to be purchased in the vicinity of Montacute. Besides these, there were all our travelling trunks; and an enormous square box crammed with articles which we then in our greenness considered indispensable. We have since learned better.

After this enumeration, which yet is only partial, it will not seem strange that the guide and director of our omnibus was to ride "on horseback after we." He acted as a sort of adjutant galloping forward to spy out the way, or provide accommodations for the troop pacing close to the wheels to modify our arrangements, to console one of the imps who had bumped its pate, or to give D'Orsay a gentle hint with the riding-whip when he made demonstrations of mutiny and occasionally falling behind to pick up a stray handkerchief or parasol.

The roads near Detroit were inexpressibly bad. Many were the chances against our toppling load's preserving its equilibrium. To our inexperience the risks seemed nothing less than tremendous but the driver so often reiterated, "that a'n't nothin'," in reply to our despairing exclamations, and what was better, so constantly proved his words by passing the most frightful inequalities (Michiganice "sidlings") in safety, that we soon became more confident, and ventured to think of something else beside the ruts and mud holes.

Our stopping places after the first day were of the ordinary new country class—the very coarsest accommodations by night and by day, and all at the dearest rate. When everybody is buying land and scarce anybody cultivating it, one must not expect to find living either good or cheap: but, I confess, I was surprised at the dearth of comforts which we observed everywhere. Neither milk, eggs, nor vegetables were to be had, and those who could not live on hard salt ham, stewed dried apples, and bread raised with "salt risin'," would necessarily run some risk of starvation.

One word as to this and similar modes of making bread, so much practiced throughout this country. It is my opinion that the sin of bewitching snow white flour by means of either of those abominations, "salt risin'," "milk emptin's," "bran 'east," or any of their odious compounds, ought to be classed with the turning of grain into whiskey, and both made indictable offenses. To those who know of no other means of producing the requisite sponginess in bread than the wholesome hop yeast of the brewer, I may be allowed to explain the mode to which I have alluded with such hearty reprobation. Here follows the recipe:

To Make milk emptin's. Take quantum suf. of good sweet milk add a teaspoon full of salt, and some water, and set the mixture in a warm place till it ferments, then mix your bread with it; and if you are lucky enough to catch it just in the right moment before the fermentation reaches the putrescent stage, you may make tolerable good rolls, but it you are five minutes too late, you will have to open your doors and windows while your bread is baking. Verbum sap.

"Salt risin'" is made with water slightly salted and fermented like the other; and becomes putrid rather sooner; and "bran 'east" is on the same plan. The consequences of letting these mixtures stand too long will become known to those whom it may concern, when they shall travel through the remoter parts of Michigan; so I shall not dwell upon them here but I offer my counsel to such of my friends as may be removing westward, to bring with them some form of portable yeast (the old fashioned dried cakes which mothers and aunts can furnish, are as good as any) and also full instructions for perpetrating the same; and to plant hops as soon as they get a corner to plant them in. "And may they better reck the rede, Than ever did th' adviser."

The last two days of our slow journey were agreeably diversified with sudden and heavy showers, and intervals of overpowering sunshine. The weather had all the changefulness of April, with the torrid heat of July. Scarcely would we find shelter from the rain which had drenched us completely when the sunshine would tempt us forth; and by the time all the outward gear was dried, and matters in readiness for a continuation of our progress, another threatening cloud would drive us back though it never really rained till we started.

We had taken a newly opened and somewhat lonely route this time, in deference to the opinion of those who ought to have known better, that this road from having been less travelled would not be quite so deep as the other. As we went further into the wilderness the difficulties increased. The road had been but little "worked," (the expression in such cases) and in some parts was almost in a state of nature. Where it wound round the edge of a marsh, where in future times there will be a bridge or drain, the wheels on one side would be on the dry ground while the others were sinking in the long wet grass of the marsh and in such places it was impossible to discern inequalities which yet might overturn us in an instant. In one case of this sort we were obliged to dismount the "live lumber" as the man who helped us through phrased it, and let the loaded waggon pass on, while we followed in an empty one which was fortunately at hand and it was, in my eyes, little short of a miracle that our skilful friend succeeded in piloting safely the top heavy thing which seemed thrown completely off its center half a dozen times.

At length we came to a dead stand. Our driver had received special cautions as to a certain mash that "lay between us and our home" to "keep to the right" to "follow the travel" to a particular point, and then "turn up stream:" but whether the very minuteness and reiteration of the directions had puzzled him, as is often the case, or whether his good genius had for once forsaken, I know not. We had passed the deep center of the miry slough, when by some unlucky hair's breadth swerving, in went our best horse our sorrel our "Prince," the "off haus," whose value had been speered three several times since we left Detroit, with magnificent offers of a "swop!" The noble fellow, unlike the tame beasties that are used to such occurrences, shewed his good blood by kicking and plunging, which only made his case more desperate. A few moments more would have left us with a "single team," when his master succeeded in cutting the traces with his penknife. Once freed, Prince soon made his way out of the boghole and pranced off, far up the green swelling hill which lay before us out of sight in an instant and there we sat in the marsh.

There is but one resource in such cases. You must mount your remaining horse if you have one, and ride on till you find a farmer and one, two, or three pairs of oxen -and all this accomplished, you may generally hope for a release in time.

The interval seemed a leetle tedious, I confess. To sit for three mortal hours in an open waggon, under a hot sun, in the midst of a swamp is not pleasant. The expanse of inky mud which spread around us, was hopeless, as to any attempt at getting ashore. I crept cautiously down the tongue, and tried one or two of the tempting green tufts, which looked as if they might afford foothold; but alas! they sank under the slightest pressure. So I was fain to regain my low chair, with its abundant cushions, and lose myself in a book. The children thought it fine fun for a little while, but then they began to want a drink. I never knew children who did not, when there was no water to be had.

There ran through the very midst of all this black pudding, as clear a stream as ever rippled, and the waggon stood almost in it! but how to get at it? The basket which had contained, when we left the city, a store of cakes and oranges, which the children thought inexhaustible, held now, nothing but the napkins, which had enveloped those departed joys, and those napkins, suspended corner wise, and soaked long and often in the crystal water, served for business and pleasure, till Papa came back.

"They're coming! They're coming!" was the cry, and with the word, over went Miss Alice, who had been reaching as far as she could, trying how large a proportion of her napkin she could let float on the water.

Oh, the shrieks and the exclamations! how hard Papa rode, and how hard Mamma scolded! but the little witch got no harm beyond a thorough wetting, and a few streaks of black mud, and felt herself a heroine for the rest of the day.

Click here for an index to the chapters of A New Home.
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