Sarah Horton’s letter dated,December 10, 1844 was addressed to Mrs.William Bradshaw. The Bradshaw Farm at Abington, Russell Co., Virginia My beloved sister Jane, We have arrived at our destination, and I hasten to pen these lines without knowing if, when or how they will reach you. Leaving you, my dear sister, was the hardest part of our move to Texas—harder than any of the frustrations and deprivations we encountered along the way during the four months it took our faithful oxen to pull our creaking wagons southward and westward to this place which Pa calls our Promised Land. I must tell you there have been many times during the past several weeks when that promise rang hollow. So many times during the journey, I secretly longed to be back in our dear old home in Virginia. I say secretly because I knew that Ma was suffering, too, and I did not want to say or do anything to make it harder for her.
You and your husband were generous to invite—even encourage— me to stay with you, but I knew you didn’t need an extra person in your lives. You and Mr. Bradshaw have your own family. I could not think of intruding on your busy household, even though you tried so hard to convince me that I could be a help with the children. Oh, how I miss them— almost as much as I miss you. How tempted I was to accept your invitation.You and I have always shared a special bond that now has been temporarily severed.
And, of course, I had to come with the family. I could not leave Ma alone to cope with the cooking and with our younger sisters. I knew that much would be expected of each one of us as we settle into our new home. Our brothers, John, James, Enoch and Robert, are already hard at work with Pa cutting trees and smoothing planks to build our house. Mary and I bear much of the responsibility for looking after Ma and our younger sisters and brother. Nineteen-year-old Martha and Rachel, at 17, are both old enough to be a great deal of help, but you remember they are often daydreaming and not eager to be involved in the day-to-day housekeeping and cleaning. Lucy and Emmarine, both much younger, often squabble as sisters sometimes will and need constant attention.
I woke this morning to bitter cold. It is astonishing how fast the temperature changes here. When we arrived twelve days ago on November 29, it was a cool, crisp day of early autumn, not cold like the kind of cold we have this time of year back home. I could almost believe that we had reached the land of eternal springtime—just as the pamphlets put out by Peters’ Colony promised. This morning frost blanketed the countryside, and we had to break a thin coat of ice in order to wash our hands and faces.
I first set eyes on our future home as our ox-drawn wagon creaked over unexplored hills and valleys, along virgin pathways through some of the most beautiful countryside we’d seen since we left Virginia. The trees—many of them strange to me—were resplendent in their autumn finery. Fiery reds and tarnished bronzes and brilliant yellows of all golden hues against backgrounds of pine and cedar greens painted a natural landscape far more wonderful than any artist could capture. The falling leaves sprayed a constant sprinkling over us as we made our way here. It was a visual paradise, but we were almost too tired to enjoy it.
We are settled on the 640-acre site our father secured through the Peters’ Colony Land Grant. Imagine my surprise—and disappointment— when suddenly we stopped, not among the beauty of the hillsides, but in a level, plain terrain covered with shrubs and bushes almost too thick to hack our way through. We learned this was our destination, but my disappointment was assuaged somewhat by Father’s promise that the land and the lake it overlooked was more amenable to farming. Since agriculture will provide our livelihood, it is imperative he said that we surround ourselves with land that can be cultivated as easily as possible with the few tools we have been able to bring with us.Tree-covered hillsides are not conducive to farming, but Pa says this location, fed by the nearby watersheds, will produce food and cash crops to sustain us in the days ahead. All we need to do is get through the winter before time for the spring planting.
I think we are the very first settlers in this part of the country. Our brothers have made a couple of forays into the adjoining countryside and have not come across anyone else. Every time they ride off on their horses to explore our surroundings, Ma is nervous, and I must admit I breathe a sigh of relief when I see them return. We just don’t know what’s out there. Rumors of marauding Indians keep us constantly vigilant. I would feel much safer if we had neighbors. Pa promises they will come—and soon. But you know our father—always a dreamer, always believing that his fortune lies just over the next hill. I so hope, this time, that he is right.
I keep very busy. Our campsite here is as comfortable as it can be under the circumstances, but I will be glad when we have a roof over our heads. The cold weather makes it very difficult to keep warm. So far our food supply is holding out fine. We still had flour, meal and coffee in reserve when we arrived here. The boys have killed and dressed a deer, and fresh meat adds greatly to our monotonous meals.
In addition to helping Ma with the cooking, cleaning, clearing and laundry—which entails hauling water from the nearby lake—I have tried to continue to teach our younger sisters. I think it is imperative that all of us know how to read and write. But providing a regular school routine is difficult. In addition to their resistance to attending class and doing homework, supplies are so scarce. I would give about anything for a new book, and I cherish these few pieces of paper to write your letter.
Pa has just announced that he is leaving shortly to ride into the village for additional supplies.We need not only food and writing material, but also tools to assist with the cabin. We can only hope that he can find what we need in Dallas. I hear it is not much of a town.
The sun has come out and the weather is improved over earlier in the day when I first started to write. Pa says he must take advantage of this brief warm spell to go into town because we have been warned that the weather can turn bitterly cold this time of year and throughout the winter months. I will complete this brief message to let you know that we are all here, safe and in good health, and must get it ready for Pa to send through some courier when he goes into town. It appears that all four of our brothers plan to go into the village with Pa, but I feel sure he will insist that a couple of them stay here with us. I am not exactly frightened, but it does give me pause to consider what could happen if a band of roving Indians came upon us seven women here all alone.
Later, when we are more settled, I will write at greater length and in more detail about our trip and our surroundings here. Please write soon, Awaiting your letter,