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American History
The Ringing of a Silver Bell


In her little kitchen Bell was cleaning up the remains of their last meal in this house. The maybe two inches of water in the dish pan was all she dared to use for her dishes. She stepped back away from the sink and looked about her. Although the clouds of dust had enveloped them in a way as to block out even a ray of light on certain days , somehow she had managed to every day scoop it out and to keep her house free of the fine powdery stuff.

Bell was a lady and with the meticulous record keeping of the family she knew of her mixed blood. She knew about her mixed blood grandfather who was spoken of as "The Howard of Virginia," who was Scottish, English and Native American. He was there at the revolution from England and at the time captured the heart of a Tory woman who was from wealth and England. Together they had established Albermarle. Her fine ways brought civilization to the back woods and his strength and character allowed them to prosper. Bell also knew her grandmother Mary America Hunter who was of Scottish blood.

But all the civilization in the world could not come up against this. Bell and Joe had suffered every insult from the weather as far as the drought was concerned.  The last hammer to fall was the loss of the well. She knew they could not survive without the precious water for them and for their livestock.

She was turning now to taking only what they must have and could use in the little wagon on which Joe had placed metal barrel like hoops across in order to hold the canvas creating a covered wagon. She packed what was called "shorts," which was simply a brown ground wheat flour they had always mixed to feed the hogs. With this she would make biscuits to go with their limited supply of molasses for their breakfasts on the trail.

Joe turned the livestock out to wander and simply walk over the fences filled to the top with the drifted dust. "Maybe someone will claim them and take care of them," he muttered as he had not the heart to slaughter them needlessly. "I can't worry about stock," he spoke under his breath, "not when the children are close to the same fate."

Bell's husband Joe had family who were mixed with the Osage, and this was where they were headed. The family kept in connection by mail and they always knew what was going on with each other. Bell's mother, Elizabeth, was steady in her recording events and her letters marked with a red rose always were a source of information. She told them of the Osage, how they lived along the verdant steams of Ralston, Oklahoma and how they lived out of their teepees. She reminded Joe, who already had grown up around the people while his father had acted as an Indian agent delivering food to them after their own trek away from homelands to the poverty of  reservations. They had survived and were living still off the land.

As the sad bedraggled, exhausted little family came upon the encampment of the Osage their hearts began to feel lifted within their tired bodies. The rich alluvial soil along the river was a rich green with no comparison to the dry, dust covered land they had left.

In the days to follow, the Osage became family.  Bell was taught to dig the water lilies from the mud out of the stream beds for the roots which looked much like potatoes but were very high in protein and B vitamins. She learned to make hominy by using wood ashes to break down the husks of the corn. The natives taught her to boil the corn on the cob, cut it off and stand guard over it, fanning it with branches to keep insects away while the rich meats of the kernels shrunk and became only a minute size only to swell back to close to its original size when it was boiled with venison in the winter.  There were sacks of the grain stored against the ravages of cold winters.

Joe was a master with providing wild game. He never wasted a shot. His fishing abilities won friends among the Natives and made him a welcome person in their encampment.

Little InisThese were the blessings to give the little family life, all except one. Little Inis did not survive. They lost her when she was less than two.

For the melting pot to build the country the best was pulled from Scotland, Ireland, England and the natives themselves. The thing that was rare was how these people always remembered the good, and even as they remembered the atrocious they marked it with a memory of something good. Bell's grandfather's death in the civil war at the small pox hospital, Minton, was remembered with the planting of mint, always in a bed. The rose of Elizabeth's letter was a memory of the town's emblem where he mustered out, Ft. Girardeau, Missouri.

Today, as I, the descendant of these people, walk through my garden, I reach down to the bed of mint, pull a sprig for tea, and I feel I knew my own. Because I have saved these histories one day my little granddaughter, Elizebeth, will know her own too, whether of Scotland's Hunters, Ireland's Collins, England's Jones's and Howards or Native American Oo-Hah-Shingah, she will know.


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