At last everything was ready and Jerrine and I both mounted. Of all the times! If you think there is much comfort, or even security, in riding a pack-horse in a snowstorm over mountains where there is no road, you are plumb wrong. Every once in a while a tree would unload its snow down our backs. “Jeems” kept stumbling and threatening to break our necks. At last we got down the mountain-side, where new danger confronted us,—we might lose sight of the smoke or ride into a bog. But at last, after what seemed hours, we came into a “clearing” with a small log house and, what is rare in Wyoming, a fireplace. Three or four hounds set up their deep baying, and I knew by the chimney and the hounds that it was the home of a Southerner. A little old man came bustling out, chewing his tobacco so fast, and almost frantic about his suspenders, which it seemed he couldn’t get adjusted.
As I rode up, he said, “Whither, friend?” I said “Hither.” Then he asked, “Air you spying around for one of them dinged game wardens arter that deer I killed yisteddy?” I told him I had never even seen a game warden and that I didn’t know he had killed a deer. “Wall,” he said, “air you spying around arter that gold mine I diskivered over on the west side of Baldy?” But after a while I convinced him that I was no more nor less than a foolish woman lost in the snow. Then he said, “Light, stranger, and look at your saddle.” So I “lit” and looked, and then I asked him what part of the South he was from. He answered, “Yell County, by gum! The best place in the United States, or in the world, either.” That was my introduction to Zebulon Pike Parker.
Only two “Johnny Rebs” could have enjoyed each other’s company as Zebulon Pike and myself did. He was so small and so old, but so cheerful and so sprightly, and a real Southerner! He had a big, open fireplace with backlogs and andirons. How I enjoyed it all! How we feasted on some of the deer killed “yisteddy,” and real corn-pone baked in a skillet down on the hearth. He was so full of happy recollections and had a few that were not so happy! He is, in some way, a kinsman of Pike of Pike’s Peak fame, and he came west “jist arter the wah” on some expedition and “jist stayed.” He told me about his home life back in Yell County, and I feel that I know all the “young uns.”
There was George Henry, his only brother; and there were Phœbe and “Mothie,” whose real name is Martha; and poor little Mary Ann, whose death was described so feelingly that no one could keep back the tears. Lastly there was little Mandy, the baby and his favorite, but who, I am afraid, was a selfish little beast since she had to have her prunellas when all the rest of the “young uns” had to wear shoes that old Uncle Buck made out of rawhide. But then “her eyes were blue as morning-glories and her hair was jist like corn-silk, so yaller and fluffy.” Bless his simple, honest heart! His own eyes are blue and kind, and his poor, thin little shoulders are so round that they almost meet in front. How he loved to talk of his boyhood days! I can almost see his father and George Henry as they marched away to the “wah” together, and the poor little mother’s despair as she waited day after day for some word, that never came.
Poor little Mary Ann was drowned in the bayou, where she was trying to get water-lilies. She had wanted a white dress all her life and so, when she was dead, they took down the white cross-bar curtains and Mother made the little shroud by the light of a tallow dip. But, being made by hand, it took all the next day, too, so that they buried her by moonlight down back of the orchard under the big elm where the children had always had their swing. And they lined and covered her grave with big, fragrant water-lilies. As they lowered the poor little home-made coffin into the grave the mockingbirds began to sing and they sang all that dewy, moonlight night. Then little Mandy’s wedding to Judge Carter’s son Jim was described. She wore a “cream-colored poplin with a red rose throwed up in it,” and the lace that was on Grandma’s wedding dress. There were bowers of sweet Southern roses and honeysuckle and wistaria. Don’t you know she was a dainty bride?
At last it came out that he had not heard from home since he left it. “Don’t you ever write?” I asked. “No, I am not an eddicated man, although I started to school. Yes’m, I started along of the rest, but they told me it was a Yankee teacher and I was ‘fraid, so when I got most to the schoolhouse I hid in the bushes with my spelling-book, so that is all the learning I ever got. But my mother was an eddicated woman, yes’m, she could both read and write. I have the Bible she give me yit. Yes’m, you jist wait and I’ll show you.” After some rummaging in a box he came back with a small leather-bound Bible with print so small it was hard to read. After turning to the record of births and deaths he handed it to me, his wrinkled old face shining with pride as he said, “There, my mother wrote that with her own hand.” I took the book and after a little deciphered that “Zebulon Pike Parker was born Feb. 10, 1830,” written in the stiff, difficult style of long ago and written with pokeberry ink. He said his mother used to read about some “old feller that was jist covered with biles,” so I read Job to him, and he was full of surprise they didn’t “git some cherry bark and some sasparilly and bile it good and gin it to him.”
He had a side room to his cabin, which was his bedroom; so that night he spread down a buffalo robe and two bearskins before the fire for Jerrine and me. After making sure there were no moths in them, I spread blankets over them and put a sleepy, happy little girl to bed, for he had insisted on making molasses candy for her because they happened to be born on the same day of the month. And then he played the fiddle until almost one o’clock. He played all the simple, sweet, old-time pieces, in rather a squeaky, jerky way, I am afraid, but the music suited the time and the place.
Next morning he called me early and when I went out I saw such a beautiful sunrise, well worth the effort of coming to see. I had thought his cabin in a cañon, but the snow had deceived me, for a few steps from the door the mountains seemed to drop down suddenly for several hundred feet and the first of the snow peaks seemed to lie right at our feet. Around its base is a great swamp, in which the swamp pines grow very thickly and from which a vapor was rising that got about halfway up the snow peak all around. Fancy to yourself a big jewel-box of dark green velvet lined with silver chiffon, the snow peak lying like an immense opal in its center and over all the amber light of a new day. That is what it looked most like.
Well, we next went to the corral, where I was surprised to find about thirty head of sheep. Some of them looked like they should have been sold ten years before. “Don’t you ever sell any of your sheep?” I asked. “No’m. There was a feller come here once and wanted to buy some of my wethers, but I wouldn’t sell any because I didn’t need any money.” Then he went from animal to animal, caressing each and talking to them, calling them each by name. He milked his one cow, fed his two little mules, and then we went back to the house to cook breakfast. We had delicious venison steak, smoking hot, and hoe-cakes and the “bestest” coffee, and honey.
After breakfast we set out for home. Our pack transferred to one of the little mules, we rode “Jeems,” and Mr. Parker rode the other mule. He took us another way, down cañon after cañon, so that we were able to ride all the time and could make better speed. We came down out of the snow and camped within twelve miles of home in an old, deserted ranch house. We had grouse and sage chicken for supper. I was so anxious to get home that I could hardly sleep, but at last I did and was only awakened by the odor of coffee, and barely had time to wash before Zebulon Pike called breakfast. Afterwards we fixed “Jeems’s” pack so that I could still ride, for Zebulon Pike was very anxious to get back to his “critters.”
Poor, lonely, childlike little man! He tried to tell me how glad he had been to entertain me. “Why,” he said, “I was plumb glad to see you and right sorry to have you go. Why, I would jist as soon talk to you as to a dead man. Yes’m, I would. It has been almost as good as talking to old Aunt Dilsey.” I came on homeward, thankful for the first time that I can’t talk correctly.
I got home at twelve and found, to my joy, that none of the men had returned, so I am safe from their superiority for a while, at least.
With many apologies for this outrageous letter, I am