The lack of forward momentum, the idle talk in the wagon yard, the idle hands with little to do, the scramble for credible information about land and work, the increasingly apparent lack of opportunities in a city on the fading end of its boom cycle, and, equally important but disagreeably difficult to resolve, their futures whether together or separate, took their toll in the wagon yard. Sadie’s diary rambled from hope to despair, and for the first time injected pointed opinions about her companions. Clearly she was uncomfortable with the admissions for in almost every instance she forcibly swung her attention to something uplifting or positive as if the inclusion might counteract her negativity. For every up, a down. It wasn’t life in balance but life falling apart, the first cracks splintering the facade of relationships grown close through common toil and shared dreams.
October 26, the yard bustling with activity, cookfires smoldering, men and women setting out to seek gainful employment. Charles and Goldie Jewell accompanied Fred as he hunted down the man who had offered them work cutting and hauling wood. It might not be what they wanted or expected but it was better than nothing. Or so they thought. When they found the man, they were chagrined to learn that the offer had changed; it had an edge to it now, its terms more restrictive and far less generous. The contract called for a certain amount of cords of per week but mentioned nothing of payment. Nor did further discussion bring clarification. The man held his ground, certain that he had them at his mercy, and altogether wrong. They simply shrugged and walked away.
With the bust of the only job offer they’d managed to find, talk turned to the surrounding area and its opportunities. Perhaps Eureka Springs wasn’t the best place to be; maybe someplace outside of town where the land opened up and smoothed out its wrinkles was where they ought to be looking. Land they understood, and farming, and Arkansas soil was the most fecund and rich they’d ever seen. Stick a shovel in the grass and crops would climb it like Jack’s beanstalk. “Anything you plant just grows,” Sadie wrote, reiterating a sentence later with “The finest crops grow here.”
How she knew that is unclear. It might have been advertising hype, unprincipled boosterism to keep the unwary and the gullible coming as the springs dried up and the economy tanked. But the idea stuck, and talk around the wagons centered on broadening their search.
Charles Chambers voted to pull up stakes and return to Kansas, or maybe continue on to Searcy County, another 75 or so miles to the east. The others refused to even consider his suggestion.
But something else was at play here, something Sadie failed to elaborate upon either through neglect or deliberation: Chambers was either injured, sick or slothful. And, perhaps, scatter-brained. “Charles Chambers says he feels pretty good now, anyway he is talking about working!” Sadie wrote. Her exclamation point stands as a damning indictment. “He don’t know what he wants to do, and baffles all the rest.”
“We are having an awful time to decide what we want to do,” Sadie wrote, “and what they want to do. If we women say anything the men get mad, then get over it. We laugh a while and then want to cry a while, but we don’t.”
The stress kept them on edge. Sadie’s thoughts wandered across the written page, often contradicting previous passages. “We all feel so good,” she wrote, adding that they sleep soundly and wake refreshed. A few sentences later she wrote of how tired she was from the trip, a weariness not merely her own but of the entire party. “We are all tired,” she confessed, and increasingly irritable at one another.
It was decided to spend the following day looking for land to homestead. Fred would go out, and maybe the Jewells, while the others remained in the wagon yard or tried other venues in town. “I hope we do something pretty soon,” Sadie wrote.
“Well the boys looked over three homesteads and are not satisfied with any of them, but guess we will take one and settle down,” Sadie wrote the next afternoon. “We may starve but we can't help it. I had a good cry this morning for I wanted to go see for myself but Goldie wanted to stay with Aunt Maryetta and I did not want to go alone so I did not go. We may go in the morning. We have had some of the worst confabs you ever heard.”
Each dawn brought a new set of arguments. October 28 was the worst day, with strife tearing the group apart and none able to reason with the others. The only thing they agreed upon was that the wagon yard was a seething hellhole they had to escape from.
Fred, Sadie and little Lucile settled on a brushy homestead outsider of town. The first order of business was to commence clearing. As they worked, Fred had an eye for potential places to set his traps. They were eager to start their new lives in the fertile dirt of Arkansas, even if the place was rundown and leached of promise. The thought that they had come so far for so little ate at their resolve, sharpened their tongues, turned them on one another.
The chaotic nature of their dissolution carried over to Sadie’s writing. Her daily entries grew shorter and shorter, as if the energy required to order her thoughts was too much of a burden. Sentences became disjointed and without foundation. What’s left in those final days are pieces of a puzzle whose parts are mostly missing.
“The other boys rented a house in town,” Sadie wrote. “They started for it and us for the country. But when they got almost to their house they asked us to go and stay all night and start out early in the morning. We all ate supper together. They want us to rent one room of their house and I don't want to, but we may.”
Whatever cohesiveness they’d had on the road devolved into pressure and in-fighting. As darkness fell in a place she hated, with friends who had grown into strangers, Sadie wrote, “We have had the awfulest time today.”
The next day the decision was made to move into the bedroom in the house shared by the others. It was perched on a ridge surrounded by even taller ridges, or mountains, as Sadie called them, and pretty enough except that Sadie didn’t care much about climbing mountains, as she wrote that afternoon.
“We have not much to put in it, but it is enough till we find out where we are going to settle,” she wrote. “I can't say that I like it yet for I have not seen much of it.”
The only good news of the day was that Fred got a job hauling railroad ties. It would take him away from her during the day, leaving her with people she no longer shared an affinity with, and all the time the baby in her womb grew bigger.
The next day the rains came.
(To be continued)