April 13, 1892 - Day 37

Dear Martha,

Pap startled me awake today with the words, “Teddy, you got to get up, girl, ’cause we’re crossing the river today.” I was so deep asleep that, at first, I was confused. My mind was hazy and full of cobwebs, but then I remembered one word—ferryboat. I jumped up, so I wouldn’t miss any of the excitement.

Fortunately, we were camped near the river. But we first had to secure everything in the wagon or, as Pap said, “batten down the hatches.” Mama always chuckles when he says that. Pap said it’s something sailors say.

The pushers and the rest of the men struggled to line up the wagons in front of the ferryboat. They unhitched a team of oxen and moved them out of the way. Then, they pushed one wagon at a time on board the flat deck of the ferry. The ferrymen lashed down the wagon wheels to large planks nailed to the ferry deck, so the wheels were locked in place. The wagons were floated and pulled across the river by ropes and pulleys. A team of mules on the other side were driven away from the river, pulling the ferry across. Great buckets of butterbeans, was that ferry sitting low in the water! The men in front got splashed as the river churned up and gushed over the bow.

One of the pushers led the oxen to the river in pairs, unyoked them from each other, and a man on horseback swam them across. When he got them to the other side, they were herded into a corral. I couldn’t imagine how those huge oxen could swim, but they were as graceful as horses.


Once on the other side, the men had to unlash the wagons, unlock the wheels, and push the wagons off of the boat. Sometimes, it took as many as ten men to push those heavy wagons. The oxen were yoked together and hitched back to the wagons. Each wagon that crossed went to the new camping area on the other side. The men then had to get back on the ferry and ride back across, being pulled by another team of mules on our side of the river. Sometimes, there were people, horses, carts, dogs, wagons, and supplies coming back across from the other side. They had to be loaded on and secured in place, as well. Not the people, of course. They just held on to whatever they could. Minnie, Hallie, Jasper, Travis, and I sat together on the bank of the river and watched all day. Little did we know that we were about to see the worst thing you can imagine.

The animals could get pretty skittish on the ferry. Late that afternoon, a mule got scared and started kicking. A man who was not from our caravan was standing nearby. The mule kicked him in the chest, and he went flying right into the river. They threw him a lifeline, but he was too badly hurt to hold on. Martin, Miss Emily’s husband, dived into the river and swam after him. The man was unconscious and coughing up blood by the time Martin got him to shore.

There was no doctor, so Mrs. Carter examined the man. She said, “It might be too late, but this man needs a doctor.” The way she said it, we all knew he might die. The farmer who owned the mule offered to take him to a doctor.

Of course, all the excitement completely stopped the river crossing for the day. It was about dark, anyway. This wagon crossing takes a long time. Ten wagons did cross today, but ours wasn’t one of them.

Tomorrow, the remaining wagons will cross, and we will become a train again.