TRIBUTE TO A PIONEER LADY
By Ora Mae Huston Willett Trager
Copy of text of booklet written in 1957
A WONDERFUL PIONEER MOTHER
(Margaret L. Shuey married William Lee Huston)
The small town of
The big Conestoga covered
wagons were being loaded for the long six-month trek to
My Grandfather, Henry
Shuey, was chosen captain of the wagon train. He had been captain of the
home guards there in
In my mother’s wagon were her mother and father (*Henry and Sarah (Stowe) Shuey), her sister Lucetta Shuey (a young school teacher), and her nine year old brother, Edward. Of course my father (*William Lee Huston), a daring young man of twenty-four, drove the wagon. My mother had the care of my beautiful sister, Clara, not yet two years of age.
In our imagination we see
the neighbors and friends saying good-bye, and the long line of covered
wagons starting out, plodding wearily along over the deeply rutted roads
west to the
My aunt (*Lucetta Shuey)
kept a diary on the trip, and she mentions the fact of good grazing and
water necessary when they camped. The wagons took them over the Laramie
Trail, stopping at
It must have been very
tedious for my mother, jolting over the rocky, muddy roads, making only
ten or a dozen miles a day.
In her secret heart she knew she was to have a second baby soon after
she had completed her long journey to
On a motor trip a few years ago, lasting only a few days over this same general route, I tried to visualize the trip of several months my mother took so many years ago.
At night, the wagons would form a circle, the pole of one wagon being fixed the in the opening of the next one. After the oxen had grazed, they were put into this corral of wagons, and two men would stand guard for the night. In the morning, the cows were milked and the milk was put into stone crocks. The jolting of the wagons made the globules of butter come to the top. So they had no need of churns.
There were many wild animals to worry these brave pioneers. Also there was often sickness and disease to add to their discomfort. They sometimes had to bury their loved ones and leave them behind. All along the trail, mother told me, were graves where this had been happening since the “Forty-niners” had made the same trek in search for gold.
It was when their journey was almost half completed that they began seeing Indians and they then realized they were in Indian country. One time my father thought he was shooting a prairie dog! Well, it turned out that some Indian warriors came and wanted to know why he had killed one of their dogs! They even threatened to take him off to harm him. However, he, being quite an athlete, challenged them to a wrestling match. He then gave them a bright colored shirt. This way, by his friendly approach, convinced them that he had accidentally killed one of their dogs.
My mother often twitted him about running a race with an Indian squaw, thinking she was a warrior. The woman beat him, much to his chagrin, and the great derision of the friends gathered around. The travelers had brought along bright colored blankets, shirts, beads, etc, to barter with the Indians.
My mother worried about the Indians stealing the baby (*Clara). They would ride up on their ponies to the wagon and say, “Swap papoose?” I presume that her beautiful blonde curls and rosy cheeks must have been a coveted sight to those Indian mothers! I know my mother watched every minute over her little daughter.
It seems that a year or so before my folks came west there had been a terrible Indian slaughter known as the “Mountain Meadow Massacre”. Mother told of seeing wagon wheels piled high where the whole train had perished in the fire. It is thought that some ill-advised Mormons dressed as Indians had helped in this dastardly deed.
As I told you, my
grandfather, Henry Shuey, had been captain of the home guards, and had
helped drive the Mormons out of
We can hardly believe that when the only means of communication in those days was the “Pony Express” that such a thing could happen. However, I think that even then there was a grapevine through word of mouth! My mother often told me stories of the hardships and fears that they had.
One story that particularly stays in my mind is the one I am about to relate.
As you may know, they were
now about to go through the rugged passes of the
Mother said that in a
matter of minutes every Indian had disappeared. The
So now they journeyed on
down to the Humboldt Sink in western
They were now in
Our family had a very
pleasant surprise when my two uncles, Will Shuey and Gus Huston, rode
Now, in just about six weeks, my brother, Henry (*James Henry), was born. I know how happy mother was to be here after that long and perilous journey.
My father, who was always
interested in raising things – wheat, horses, etc., soon wanted to get a
place of his own. So they moved into
They then moved out to
When Clara and Henry were
of school age, they attended a country school in
Well, my mother used to
say that my father had the real spirit of a pioneer. So in the middle
1870’s, he heard of a great wheat country in the
The next year, he persuaded my mother that it was getting too crowded in San Ramon valley, and he wanted to go pioneering again. What if he were here to see it now!
So in the fall of 1878, he
loaded up his wagon and with his family, now three sons – Henry (*James
Henry), George and Lee (*William Lee) – left the beautiful Bay area and
started south. My sister Clara had married (*Thomas Reed) and was living
They went through the
Our Home on the Plains
fathers had come through
Paso Robles was named by the fathers going through on foot. The country was covered with beautiful white oaks, so “Pass of the Oaks” was and appropriate name for the village. Because of the hot sulphur springs, Paso Robles became a favorite spot for the weary travelers after they chased away the bears!
My father bought a
160-acre ranch four miles east of town across the
Before the house was really finished, a fire started from a kerosene lamp being too near the curtains. At the house was burned to the ground. A good kind neighbor took us all in for a length of time.
I know my mother must have
felt very discouraged and sad about losing her nice carpets and many
household thing, as well as all personal belongings that she had brought
There was nothing to do but for my father to make trips across the mountains again for lumber for a new house. Mother told me that they couldn’t afford to build quite as good a one as the first one.
My mother, a very devout
Christian, did not lose heart. She took an active part in a little adobe
Unfortunately, as towns
grew up around, the little church was abandoned and went to ruins.
I am happy to say that recently it has been restored and is now
one of the registered historical landmarks of
There were the usual
hardships in the early 1880’s. There were droughts when no wheat crops
were raised. Sickness often invaded the community. There was one doctor
One time an epidemic of diphtheria struck, and children, especially, succumbed to this dreaded disease. In the little cemetery near the adobe church, three little graves from two different families, have dates on the stones showing that they died on a matter of weeks apart. Such was one of the sad stories of these early pioneers!
It was then that I, only a small child, went to my mother’s bed and said, “ I am going to die!” No doubt it was because I had been hearing all the sad news.
My father, who had taken
up a homestead about twenty-five miles up in the hills of southern
Father and my brothers
continued to farm the wheat ranch on the Estrella Plains for several
years. He had to haul the wheat over the mountains to
Well, in time father sold our wheat ranch to live up in the mountains, eking out a rather hard living by raising a few cattle, hogs, and enough hay to feed them.
By this time, we had another house built with lumber hauled from San Miguel and Paso Robles. Then the railroad had reached down here and things were shipped in.
My father was rather a sentimental type, so he built our house on a knoll above the spring. There were three large pine trees there, and he insisted on naming it “Pinyon Ranch”
The trips to either town
were never more than once a month.
In the winter, the
I realize now what a good manager my mother must have been to have kept us in clothes, all of which she had to make, and to see that we had sufficient and nourishing food. Flour and sugar came in big barrels. Coffee beans, corn, peas, etc. had to be dried. All the supplies had to be laid in because sometimes we didn’t get to town for several months.
One of my early memories was the wonderful treat when father came from town, bringing a five-gallon keg of mixed pickles. How we did enjoy the sour cucumbers, cauliflower, peppers, and onions! The coffee came as a green berry. Mother would roast it, without any thermometer, in the wood stove to a lovely brown. Then we had the task of grinding enough for breakfast each morning by turning the crank of the coffee mill which was up on the wall. It was good coffee too, so the grownups said. Of course we children never had any.
My childhood was rather
lonely as my brother Lee was eight years older than I. We were over two
miles from the nearest school. My father thought I was too young to ride
my horse that distance alone. However, I did learn to read.
I almost forgot to tell you that my mother had taught school in
As wallpaper was scarce,
my mother used to paper our kitchen with “Harper’s Weekly”, sent by an
When it was very rainy, I remember that father would get the big old work horse out and take me to school. I would ride behind him on Nig’s spacious back. I can still smell the spicy pine needles, manzanita blossoms, wild lilac, and other delicious odors of the Parkfield hills!
About the only social life we had was the Lyceum meetings held on Friday nights at the school house. There we had musical programs, speeches, and debates. Of course we looked forward to our school exhibitions at Christmas time and at the end of school. We did have occasional country dances, also held on Friday nights. I was never allowed to go unless my big brother Lee could take me. He was very good to me and I loved to go with him, He was an excellent dancer and always paid attention to his little sister. I was free, too, to have a good time with other country swains.
We also had an organized Sunday school at the school house on certain Sunday afternoons. We received book and cards for regular attendance. Reading material was rather scarce as our library finds in the school were very limited. Some of us read the few books over many times.
At home, we were allowed to play cards any time except on Sunday. My mother, being a good Methodist, made us put our cards away on Saturday night. My father and I used to play against my two brothers, George and Lee. We played “Pedro” mostly. The boys loved to tease me by having signs under the table. I took my playing rather seriously, and often they made me cry as a result of their teasing. My father would only laugh, but I can hear my mother say, “Boys, if you don’t stop teasing Mae, I shall put the cards in the stove.” Anyway, I always thought a lot of my big brothers, and I know they were very fond of me.
When I was not quite
sixteen, I went away to
It was quite an experience to leave home and go so far away, as very few rural children went away to college in those days.
I used to be the envy of some of my classmates when I came out with a new dress that my mother had made and sent to me. After cutting out a picture of a dress that I would like to have, I would send it to her. She had learned to cut patterns from one’s measurements. I was very proud when someone would ask me who my dressmaker was. I thought how wonderful she was, away down in the Parkfield hills, with only a paper pattern and a few yards of cloth, to turn out the creations that were the envy of my city friends!
When I was about half
through my teacher training, there was a dreadful drought. Scarcely any
rain fell during the year, and consequently there was no feed for the
stock. My father decided to move up to
When I graduated, the old urge to return to the country came to my family. I also knew I must get a rural school for my first teaching. So back we came with our wagon and horses. It took us almost a week to get to our Parkfield ranch. My brother George who had married my second teacher, now lived on the home place.
Father then bought a place nearer the town so I could live at home and begin my teaching career. When the weather was good, I drove in a cart to the school four miles away, but in bad weather, I rode on horseback as the adobe would roll up on the cart wheels and make it impossible for the horse to draw the cart! In my two rural schools that I taught, there were all eight grades. Six months, or a total of one hundred and twenty teaching days, was the length of the school year.
During my second year of teaching we visited the county fair held in Paso Robles. There a music house had pianos to sell. I wanted one very badly. When I asked my mother whether she thought I could buy one costing over three hundred dollars out of my measly salary of sixty dollars a month, she smilingly assured me that she thought I could. All I needed was her assurance and gracious cooperation which was always coming! The first night I had that lovely shiny piano I hardly slept a wink. I left my bedroom door open so I could see it sitting in our small living room!
I forgot to say that my father bought me a big organ when I was about eleven years of age. It had a mirror on it, and also two lamp stands on either side. I was very proud of that. My aunt Lu gave me lessons and I also had a teacher in the seventh and eighth grades who gave me more lessons. Soon I was able to play school and simple church music. I remember that my mother used to sing all the old hymns to me. She was a product of the old “singing schools”. She could take a song, sing the syllables, hum the tune, and then sing the words off readily. I marveled at her ability! She also spent her youth at “spelling school” too. We could never stump her on the spelling of a word. Of course we had many spelling matches at our school in those days!
After living at home for
about seven years, I finally took a position in the town school in San
Miguel where I was to meet my future husband. He was my principal, and
it was a very short time until we were married. We soon had two little
daughters, Margaret and Muriel, the latter, the mother of Sherri and
Keith Davis. During our stay in San Miguel, my father passed away(*
My husband Harry Willett decided that he wanted to complete his college work which had been interrupted by ill health, so we moved up to Berkeley. Before long, we had a third little daughter, Ruth, mother of Arleigh, David, and Linda Williams. Mother came then to help me with the baby.
After our daddy had received his master’s degree in education, he got the principalship of the high school in Paso Robles. So then we all made the move south again, mother and I happy to be back in our old environs. Mother then decided to make her home with us. In a short period of less than two years, my husband fell ill and passed away suddenly, leaving me with my three little girls, two, four, and six years of age.
It was then that I needed my dear mother most. I had to go back into teaching, and mother was left to take over the home. She just seemed to take on new life, though past seventy-five years of age. I know now it was because she felt, probably for the first time since my father’s death, that she was really needed. What a comfort she was to us all in those trying days. She was always patient with the children. She would enter into their games by sitting in her chair and guessing where they were hiding. Her baby Ruth was the one to get her slippers and do many little things for her. Muriel and Margaret were soon enrolled in school. About her only social life was her church, and its meetings. She never missed a Sunday, walking four blocks each way, since we were still without a car.
Mother was spared until
Ruth was eight years old, so by this time, we had worked out of our
hardest times. One Sunday afternoon, after one week of not feeling too
well, she was sitting in her room with all of us gathered around her.
Ruth was playing her violin for her. She said, “They say the violin is
the hardest instrument to learn to play”, and with that, she dropped her
head and she was gone to her heavenly reward. (*
We missed her greatly, but we couldn’t wish her back, after the shock of her going it just seemed a beautiful ending to a wonderfully well-spent life! Her spirit seemed to permeate our whole living, and her kind understanding and noble spirit became an everlasting inspiration to me, and I hope to my girls.
I was given strength to carry on and send my girls on through five years of college. I saw them all grow up in our church, have their weddings, and see their children baptized.
Now, to my grandchildren, and the other grandchildren, I hope that my attempt to write this tribute to a wonderful pioneer lady has not been in vain. There may be no more lands in which to pioneer, but here will always be great endeavors and purposes in life in which you will always have a part. There will also be many decisions to make which will determine the way you will go. A fine character and a useful citizen will largely be the result of these necessary decisions.
I hope you will always have the courageous patient loving spirit that this wonderful pioneer mother showed all during her long life.
“Her children arise up and call her blessed”
Note: The above narrative [and a set of scanned images from the typed booklet] have been donated to the San Luis Obispo County Genealogical Library. It is our privilege to put a copy online so that Researchers who might have a connection to this family might find data pertinent to their Family History. If you find that you have a family connection and wish to contact Judy, here is her email address: JBalen1234@aol.com.
My thanks to Judy
Chadwell Balen of St
Martha A Crosley Graham
Site Updated: 20 October 2015