Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Westering Women 7: Courthouse Rock

Westering Women 7: Courthouse Rock
by Denniele Bohannon

Many passers-by described Courthouse Rock (on the left here) in their diaries. In 1853 Celinda Hines described it as “a massive pile of rocks on the level prairie and not even a stone in miles of it.”

"Found rocky bluffs resembling ancient ruins of crumbling walls….Can plainly see Court House Rock in the distance. It is an immense rock covering several acres of ground. So regular in its form as to resemble a Capitol building with cupola on the top. Our roads are poorly over sand and gravely bluff."
Harriet Griswold, July 1, 1857
As Harriet noted, the rock resembled a multi-story building from some angles and so it became Courthouse Rock.

An embroidered map of "The Covered Wagon States,"
a quilt block from an unidentified 20th-century pattern.
Courthouse Rock is about 5 miles south of Bridgeport on 
Nebraska Highway 88. 
I marked it with a red star here.

The Log Cabin variation Courthouse Steps can represent Courthouse Rock, an eye-catching landmark in what is now western Nebraska. The center square here is a good place to add your initials and the date, something travelers often did when they climbed the rock.

Westering Women Block #7 
Courthouse Rock by Becky Brown
The fabrics are from my next Moda line: Baltimore Blues.
Becky's been telling a story with her color choices.
"The wagons up ahead keep us in a cloud of dust and I feel like I've had grit in my hair since we first left Independence. We do see an occasional clump of green grass along the creeks, although it's been so dry, the prairie grass is brown this time of year. Always thankful for a blue sky and the promise of abundance at the end of this journey."

Alfred Jacob Miller,
portrait of a Sioux woman and her dog about 1859 
Collection of the Walters Museum.

Beyond Courthouse Rock was a Sioux community, where California-bound Margaret Frink stopped in 1850. “In the afternoon we passed an Indian encampment numbering seventy tents… The squaws were much pleased to see the ‘white squaw’ in our party, as they called me. I had brought a supply of needles and thread, some of which I gave them.”

Natural monuments were not the only trail markers. Travelers looked for graves, some diarists counting how many they had seen each day.

Rachel Pattison died in 1849 near Ash Hollow in Nebraska,
"taken sick in the morning, died in the night," wrote her husband.
Her gravestone has been moved to a cemetery where it is protected from further weathering.

Trail historian Ezra Meeker paying homage to 
Susan O. Haile at her grave about 1910. 

Susan died in June, 1852 along the Platte. This grave stone is long gone and has been replaced by one shown below.

Susan Haile and Rachel Pattison were two of many immigrants who died of cholera, a dysentery that can kill a person in a single day. The disease was a world-wide epidemic in the late 1840s and early 1850s. 1852, the year Susan died, was a particularly fatal year.

Mid-19th-century cholera preventatives included avoiding fruit, vegetables
and cold water---all good advice. Drafts of air were also considered dangerous.

A sick baby from Harper's Weekly in 1869

The real villain was water contaminated by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae: Too many people using the same area for privies, washing and drinking water.

But ignorance and fear caused travelers to blame the Native American tribes. If the water was poisoned Indians were the obvious enemy. Susan Hail's gravestone near Hastings has been replaced by a 20th-century stone with the dubious fact:
"Legend says this pioneer died after drinking water poisoned by Indians."

Margaret Ann Alsip Frink (1818-1893)
joined the gold rush to Sacramento, California

I'd rather remember Margaret Frink who shared her sewing supplies with the Sioux. Her encounter was far more typical of the interactions between the plains' native inhabitants and the travelers.

Cutting a 12" Block
All the strips should be cut 2" wide

A - Cut 2 strips 12-1/2" long.
B - Cut 4 strips 9-1/2" long.
C - Cut 4 strips 6-1/2" long.
D - Cut 2 strips 3-1/2" long.
E - Cut 1 square 3-1/2" x 3-1/2".

Sewing the Block.
Begin with the center square and add logs as you work out towards the outside.

Read Celinda Hines's diary in a preview of Volume 6 of Covered Wagon Women:

Harriet Booth Griswold's "From Ashtabula to Petaluma in 1859" is in Volume 7 and Margaret Frink's is in Volume 2.
See a preview here:

See more about Courthouse Rock here:


Unknown said...

Barbra, once again you have shared such a telling bit of our history. I can not even bring to imagine these women crossing the Great Plains!

I will now look at t he Courthouse Steps block very differently - it is on my list.

Thank you

Judy said...

It's a wonderful story. Some of these blocks are my favorites, like this one, and I plan to choose several to make my quilt.