My dad's maternal grandmother, my great grandmother, wrote her history as a pioneer woman of South Dakota. (I have fond memories of her at family gatherings, especially as a small child at the cabin in the high Sierras. She had been wheelchair bound by crippling arthritis for some years by the time I was born, yet I never heard her complain. She was always cheerful and interesting to be around.)
I'm copying her story here just as it was written.
A Pioneer of South Dakota
Jessie McCracken Elshere
At the request of the South Dakota Federation of Womens' Clubs asking for histories of the pioneer women of South Dakota, I am writing of my experiences of those early days as I remember them.
I was born in Taylor County, Iowa, February 23, 1876, to James McCracken and Sara Ann (Fleming) McCracken.
James McCracken's ancestors as far back as he knew, were born in America and were probably Scottish or Irish descent. His grandfather and brothers fought in the War of 1812.
Sara Ann (Fleming) McCracken was descendant of Sir Thomas Fleming, a Scott, who in England married a Miss Tarleton before sailing for America. They were one of the first permanent settlers of Jamestown, VA in 1616, about nine years after it's founding.
In 1883 when I was seven, my Mother died, and the following year in June 1884, my Father with three other men left for the Black Hills, Dakota Territory. September of that same year I followed my Father to the Black Hills in the company of Lox Singleton, his wife, who was my sister, their little girl, Hallie, and another sister, Emma, aged 18.
We traveled in a covered wagon drawn by a big team of mules. Two other couples and a small child came in another wagon drawn by a team of horses. We carried nothing but our bedding, clothing and camping equipment. When camping, one couple slept in each of the wagons, and the other couple and my sister Emma and I slept on the ground in a tent. It took us about three weeks to make the trip from Bedford, Iowa to Pierre, South Dakota. Pierre at that time was the end of the railroad.
We shipped our household goods by railroad to Pierre. My father met us there to haul the goods the rest of the way to the Black Hills. He took us to see a big elk someone had captured and kept in a pen.
After loading on our wagons as many supplies as we could haul, we crossed the Missouri River by ferry to Ft Pierre. After arriving in Ft Pierre we began to see Indians. What interested me very much was the travois the Indians used when traveling. They took two long poles and fastened one end of each pole to the sides of a pony or dog, and the other end rested on the ground; they connected the poles with wood or leather and piled their belongings on this slanting platform and the the pony or dog drug the pack. Later years the government issued lightweight wagons to the Indians.
Another interesting sight was the long ox trains that pulled the huge wagons of freight to the Black Hills. This road to the Hills was called the Deadwood Trail. Most of the supplies to the Black Hills were carried in this manner until a railroad was built up from the south. Some freight was hauled by horses. The horses were faster but grain had to be hauled for feed for the horses and this added to the load, while with oxen they could be turned loose to feed on the native grass to keep up their strength.
We then took the trail to Rapid City passing through a part of the Great Sioux Reservation until we crossed the south fork of the Cheyenne River which formed part of the boundary between the Black Hills region and the reservation. The Belle Fourche River or the north fork of the Cheyenne formed the north boundary of this region including the Black Hills that was opened to white settlers in 1876.
We did not see many Indians as they built their huts and villages along the streams where there was a supply of wood and water. These streams ran into either Bad River or the Big Cheyenne. This old Deadwood Trail crossed rather than followed them.
It was a mystery to me, and still is, how the drivers of the oxen could manage those cattle. There would be a number of yokes of cattle. I don't remember how many, pulling two huge big wagons hooked together. The front yoke or the front pair of oxen were called the "leaders" that led the way and the others followed; the yoke or pair fastened to the tongue of the front wagon were called the "wheelers". these two yokes were very important. By the use of a big long whip and language the drivers used, which was not a very beautiful language, they were able to understand "gee" and "haw". The drivers were expert with their whips, it was an art with them. If a steer began to shirk that whip would be cracked over his back and he would dig his hooves into the dirt, throw his weight against the yoke and with his nose almost to the ground pull with all his might.
Along the trail it was a sad sight to see the bones of the cattle that perished during the terrible winter of 1880-81. This was a heavy loss to the big cattlemen of the range days.
On September 28, 1884, we reached Rapid City. We passed through the town and on into the Hills through South Canyon and over a ridge into a little valley on Box Elder Creek, about nine miles northwest of Rapid City. This is a very pretty little valley. Here was situated the saw mill that my father and John McGee bought when they first arrived in the Hills. The following Christmas, my sister Emma was married to John McGee.
to be continued...