Dearest, sister Jane, This country is unbelievable! You cannot imagine the weather. Last weekend we had ice and a bit of sleet.Today the temperature feels like early summer. I am not even wearing a coat as I begin this epistle. I look out over the countryside and see a few patches of green. This morning as I walked back from the lake hauling water so that we can heat and wash a pile of dirty clothes, I saw a couple of tiny flowers! When the sun shines as it is doing at this moment, all of my homesickness disappears, and I can honestly believe that we have found the land of new opportunity. Well, almost. Except that I still long for you and for our many friends in old Virginia. We have received only two letters from you. It is very upsetting to know that you are writing to us even as I continue to post messages to you and that it takes so long for these exchanges to reach each other. Please do not let that deter you from writing. Letters are the only connection we have with each other now that we are hundreds of miles apart. The news here continues to be good. We are in excellent health—and that is the best of all news. When the weather is so warm as it is today, we are tempted to get out and begin planting. But Pa has been warned not to be too eager. We still may have a killing ice storm as late as mid-March. Mary and I—with some help from our younger sisters when they are in the mood—have dug flowerbeds outside the cabin.The task is difficult because the soil has so many roots and brambles. But when we get the debris dug out and the soil loosened, it should be a prime spot to grow flowers. I can Just imagine how lovely things will be in a few months.
You should see our cabin! Pa and the boys completed the second room about a week ago. The first thing Ma did was to hold worship services in It. Our brothers protested all the way, but in the end, they and Pa joined Ma, Mary, Martha, Rachel, Emma and me to sing a hymn and read several verses from the Bible. It was a makeshift church service, but I think it lifted all our spirits. Even Pa said a brisk prayer of thanksgiving for the new room, our home and for you and our other loved ones that are so far away. Lucy sauntered in just as we were concluding the services.You know what a dreamer she can be, and she’d wandered off to find greenery to decorate die new room. Ma said we couldn’t wait for her to get back—we didn’t know when that would be—and the men were all getting restive.
Ma, Mary—with Martha’s now-and-then assistance—got everything moved into the new part of the house right after the services of blessing while I prepared the noon meal. By the time we were ready to eat, we actually had a place to spread out a bit. It is still crowded, but nothing like it was when we were all crammed together in one room. Pa and James are now hard at work making a table. It’s big enough for all twelve of us to crowd around and will completely fill the first room of the cabin. Even so it will be good to have a place where we can actually sit down and eat together. Until then, we are still doing makeshift.When the weather is warm enough, the boys usually take their plates outside to eat. Ma and our sisters and I, often joined by Pa, huddle around the fireplace. We make Ma take the one good rocking chair that came with us all the way from Virginia. We have two other chairs and several crude stools, so we manage.
More than anything else, I’ll be glad to have a table so that I can insist on regular classes for our younger sisters. It is a constant challenge to keep them interested in studying—especially since we have so few books. Pa teases that all they need is the Bible! Though I agree this is a marvelous source, I long for books, newspapers and magazines. About a week ago when Pa came back from a trip into Dallas, he brought a newspaper, which had been published in Galveston. I’ve devoured every word. Galveston is on the coast far to the south of where we live, but seems to be the most advanced town in the entire area with the possible exception of San Antonio. All of these places are just names to me!
I was very much interested in a long article about a new treaty recently signed by President Sam Houston and nine Indian tribes. President Houston has always been a friend of the Red Man and has marvelous persuasive powers. He had issued an invitation to leaders of ten tribes—the Anadarkos, Biloxis, Chickashaws, Cherokees, Comanches, Delawares, Kichais, Hanais,Tawanokis and Wacos—last fall to meet him and several negotiators at Grapevine Springs in July to settle a territorial dispute. When he arrived from Austin on the designated day, only a handful of Indians were present. Indians have never kept times and dates the way we do in our world, so President Houston knew that they would wander in at their own pace. He waited several days and still only four or five of the tribes were represented. He had to return to the capitol to take care of pressing business, so he left General E. H. Tarrant and Gen. George W. Terrell in charge. Eventually delegates from nine of the ten invited tribes showed up, and by mutual agreement moved their meeting place to Bird’s Fort (about which you will be told more later). And on September 29, 1843, all signed an agreement that the Indians would keep west of a line considerably to the west of our settlement. Later the Comanches also signed the pact. The Senate of the Republic of Texas ratified it on January 31, 1844, a little more than a year ago, and several months before we arrived to settle here. So far it seems to be holding pretty well and that’s what the story was all about. I admit I would have been much more comfortable if I’d known about the treaty sooner. The ways of the Indian tribes differ so much from the way we live that I still fear reprisals. Even as I long to feel completely safe from danger, I cannot help think that we are intruding on a country that belonged to other people long before we entered it. I am glad to inform you that a joint resolution of Congress approved annexation of the Republic of Texas to the Union. We are now in a period of waiting for the business to be completed and for the Stars and Stripes to replace the Lone Star flag of Texas as an independent nation. It could happen any day—indeed, may already have happened as news travels so slowly.
Pa is more concerned about action to establish this area as a separate county in the state. If I hive not already made it clear how vast this country is, I add this:There is no local legal entity anywhere near. Residents on the east side of the Trinity River—the village of Dallas and points to its east—are legally in Nacogdoches County and have to transact business in the town of Nacogdoches which is 200 miles to the east. Our part of the world, west of the Trinity River, is in Robertson County, which has as its capital Old Franklin, 150 miles south of us.Whatever legal papers have to be filed must be done at these headquarters. So far we have not been able to file papers to claim our parcel of land, though James and John plan to ride the distance on their horses as soon as the weather is more predictable. We understand that if a man is summoned to jury duty in the county seat, he is obliged to get there the best way he can. I can only hope that our lack of filing our claim other than with the official Peters’ Colony agents will deter Pa and our older brothers from being called to serve on a jury until Dallas County is established.
Ma and I have completed making dresses for Martha and Rachel. We have cut garments for both Lucy and Emma but have not had a chance to put needle to fabric. Sewing goes very slowly when there is so much else to do. Mary is crocheting collars for all four of the dresses.
I long for an occasion to dress up and go to a party, though I must say I do not have appropriate clothes to make any kind of an impression. I don’t think it would make a bit of difference—even if I had to attend in one of my faded old calicos. Neighbors are still non-existent, though we keep hearing that people are moving into the territory in record numbers. Enoch reported on his last trip into Dallas that six new families are scattered among us—the Webb family from Tennessee, a Cameron family state unknown, several Cox families from Illinois, the Harwood family from Tennessee, a Jenkins family state unknown and the Rawlins family from Illinois.
Every time Pa and one of our brothers returns from the village of Dallas, they tell stories about some of the original settlers, and I am eager to go into town to meet some of them. I especially would like to meet Margaret Bryan. She was a Beeman, the daughter of John and Emily Hunnicutt Beeman who came to this part of the world three years ahead of us and settled somewhat east of the village of Dallas. Margaret married the city’s founder, John Neely Bryan, who is 15 years older than his wife. Though Margaret is six years younger than I am, she has been married for more than a year. From what little I hear, she and I seem to have a lot in common. Both of us are somewhat shy and do not need a lot of attention in order to feel important. I am looking forward to going into the village as soon as possible to meet her and other women. Even with Ma, Mary and our four younger sisters, I need to have an outlet to a wider world. Perhaps it will come soon.
Oh, how I miss you! When there were no friends with whom to share experiences I could always count on you, dear sister. You are very special to me and I miss you terribly.
All my love, Sarah
Courtesy Sarah The Bridge Builder by Vivian Anderson Castleberry.
Note: This is one of several letter Sarah Horton sent to her sister in Virginia.