April 12, 1892 - Day 36

Dear Martha,

We are camped on the banks of the Apalachicola River. Today is a day of rest. Folks are visiting, cooking together, and tending to the stock. There’s going to be a singing after a while.

Tomorrow, we will wait for our turn for the ferry. It will take two days, maybe, for all 24 wagons to cross the river, if all goes well. Crossing the river can be dangerous. Captain Walsh met with us today and explained how the crossing will take place. The ferry can take just one wagon at a time since the wagons are so big and heavy. Pap and the other pushers will help each family roll their wagon onto the ferry without any oxen. The ferry will float the wagon to the other side of the river. The men will swim the oxen across the river, one team at a time.

Crossing is expensive. We have to pay the ferrymen to take our wagon across. We have to pay the stockman to corral our team on the other side of the river. We even have to pay to camp here, and we’ve never had to pay for camping before.

Late last night, while Mama rocked Dylan, Pap and I opened the secret compartment under the wagon to take out money for the crossing. Pap held the lantern while I opened the hidden drawer. Something sparkled in the light.

 

“What’s that?” I asked.

“That’s my pap’s pocket watch,” Pap said.

I saw a thick paper, folded. “What’s that?”

Pap said, “That’s the deed to our land, Teddy. That paper is going to make a new life for our family.”

I said, “Tell me again how we got it.” Pap counted out some money and put it in his pocket. Then, he carefully shut the drawer. Now, the drawer was invisible again.

“Come sit a spell,” Pap said. We sat by our fire, which had burned down to just the coals.

“Times were hard in Mississippi. I’d been working on Mr. Albritton’s land since before you were born. I always wanted to buy land of my own, but there never seemed to be enough money after we paid all of our bills. You remember when the corn crop failed two years ago?”

I nodded. That had been a hard year. The year Dylan was born. The year we hardly had enough food. The year Mama made our clothes from feed sacks.

Pap said, “Mr. Albritton lost big when the crop failed. He called me in and said, ‘Bodain, here’s the truth of it. I have little money to pay you. However, I can offer you a land deed for 40 acres down in Florida. If you work for me one more year, I’ll deed that land over to you.’ It was a shock that he couldn’t pay me in cash for my work. But land! I told Mr. Albritton, if he would throw in Jester and Jingo, he had a deal.”

My heart was sad again when I heard the names Jester and Jingo.

Pap said, “We barely made it through, but Mr. Albritton was a man of his word. He presented me with the deed, signed over to Mr. Dalton Bodain.”

I said, “Where did you get the money for our wagon and all the supplies?”

Pap said, “Captain Walsh took me on as one of the pushers for this caravan. He advanced me the money for the wagon and for our supplies in Dothan. That’s why I work every day to pay him back.”

Pap’s story made me think about our life in Mississippi. There are things I miss there. I loved living near you, Martha. You will always be my best friend. But I am happy that Mama and Pap will have a chance to own their own land.

Love,

Teddy