Make a Little Butter

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic

Though this story is portrayed years before my time, I grew up in quite similar situations as a very poor farm/ranch son. We hunted jack rabbits, coyotes, raccoons, and badgers and sold them to a local creamery. We milked 23 head of cows by hand and separated the cream from the milk. We sold the cream to the creamery and fed the separated milk to the hogs. At that time we didn't, as children, know just how poor we were. We thought that everybody lived like this.

Make a Little Butter

Gail D. Prentice

The trek from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania to the eastern plains of Colorado was far more treacherous than the Holbrook family had anticipated.  The travel on the wagon train west, was devastating, harder than it was explained to them, and took much longer than they were promised.

Weather had claimed much of their furniture because of the leaks in the canvas top of the wagon or the foot of the mountains that they had to cross, where they left their piano and heavy furniture behind to decompose along with the treasures of many families that had made this trip before them.

It was at the foot of the mountain that they saw wagons loading up the left behind valuables and heirlooms that were still operable and good condition to return to the east coast to resell for profit.  Two of these such men fought over the piano that they had just carefully and heartbrokenly unloaded.

Mold and mildew had destroyed many of the finer clothes they had packed in the travel trunks, rending them to be nothing more than everyday garments and rags.

Really, all that survived the long, arduous trip was the clothes that they wore regularly and the tools needed to rebuild when they settled their newly purchased farmstead on the Republican River.

Two of the five head of cattle, died on the trail and only one of the three dogs survived.  One was killed by a wolf and one by the wagon master for being too aggressive.

As Ronald “Pop” Holbrook stepped down from the worn and now rickety wagon, he walked about fifty feet ahead of the horses and turned a circle, viewing the entire landscape.

“We are home,” he smiled then knelt to the ground.  “According to the directions of the surveyor, this is where we now live.”

Kathy “Mom”, Larry, Torri, and Little Joe scampered off the wagon and gazed around also.  Mom was not as excited as the children.

“Just how big is this parcel of land that we bought?” Mom asked again as she stared at the wide-open expanse.

“We paid for eighteen hundred acres.  It stretches from the south bank of the river to the top of the hill,” Pop started to explain as he drew on the ground with the stick that he picked up.  “If I have the makings correct, the property line goes from here east to the Nebraska state line, which is back there at the curve of the river and it goes west three quarters of a mile from that point.”

“That’s huge,” Larry, the oldest of the children shouted.  “We must own most of Colorado.”

“No,” Pop laughed.  “Not even a tiny part of it.  Much more than we ever dreamed of owning in Pennsylvania, but not very much of Colorado.”

“Where is our house?”  Little Joe asked with a bewildered look.  “I don’t see one here.”

“We have to build one,” Torri clarified as only an eight-year-old girl could do.  “Where are we going to build it, right Pop?”

Larry quickly jumped into the conversation, “We will build it close to the river so we don’t have to carry water very far, right Pop?”

“Exactly,” Mom smiled.  “Water a plenty and swimming also.”

“Not quite,” Pop began.  “We will probably build over there on that knoll.”

The whole family looked at him, confused why he would build so far from the water.

“You see,” Pop continued, “When it rains a lot, or a big snow melts, the river will most likely flood.  We don’t want to lose everything to a flood.”

Mom broke down and started to weep, “We have already lost almost everything.  What do we have that we left Pittsburg with?  Most of our clothes are gone, our furniture is gone, my piano is gone, we lost cows, dogs, and friends.  We lost our nice home, two of our best horses we sold to get this worn-out wagon.  Tell me Ron, what else do we have to lose?”

“We have each other, we have three head of cattle and our best dog.  We have tools to build with and a large bit of ground on which we can prosper on.

“We have nobody to tell us to be quiet and nobody to tell us how we can live our lives but us and God, who we all agreed God has led us to come out here to the west.

“I know that all of us lost things that were very important to us.  Mom lost her piano, I lost the bureau that my dad built, you kids lost all your toys crossing the Mississippi and even more than that, we all left family and friends far behind us when they told us not to go.  We all sacrificed so much to make this trip, believing that this was God’s will for us as a family.

My mother died early in the trip out here and most likely would have lived, had she stayed in Pittsburg.  Now she is buried somewhere in Indiana.”  Tears were welling up in his eyes, but he continued, “I believe that God brought us here to start life anew.  You will never convince me of anything different than that.”

“You’re right, Honey,” Mom apologized.  “Now, what do we do now?  The wagon train is long gone and here we are all by ourselves.”

“First, let’s get to a little higher ground.  It looks like it might rain and we do not know anything about the lay of the land around here.  Let’s set up camp up there on the knob of the hill.”

The rest of the day went smoothly as they established a semi-permanent campsite, not far from the river.  They tethered the cattle and horses close and hauled water from the river to the barrel hanging on the side of the wagon.

Larry, Torri and Little Joe cleaned the ground under the wagon for their bedrolls and dropped the canvas sheets to enclose the area under the wagon and staked them down.  They had done this so many times, it went quickly and they began to play as soon as they were finished.

“Not so quick,” Pop barked.  “Head down to the river and gather enough firewood for tonight and tomorrow.  If this rain holds on for a day or so, we will need a lot of dry firewood.”

“Awe, Pop,” Little Joe complained.

“Awe Pop nothing young man,” Mom jumped in, “With no wood, there is no eating.”

Instantly, Little Joe scurried toward the trees by the river.  “Come on, Larry, I’m hungry.”

The three children worked diligently, gathering firewood.  Larry swung the axe like a seasoned lumberjack, while Torri pulled large branches over to him.  Little Joe loaded the homemade cart for the journey up the small hill to the camp.

Mom dug into the food reserves and produced just enough jerky and aging potatoes to make one last pot of stew.

“We need some food tomorrow.  Supper tonight is going to be skimpy,” Mom spoke softly.  “I hope we have good hunting here.”

“Shh,” Pop said as he reached for his rifle.  Carefully, he laid the rifle over the tongue of the wagon and took aim.  With the children at the river and Mom on the other side of the wagon, they had not seen the small herd of deer that were standing about one hundred yards south of them as they watched the family.

BOOM!  The children stopped what they were doing and ran toward the wagon.  Mom jumped to her feet and hurried to the front of the wagon.  Pop stood to his feet and watched the young buck fall to the ground.

“Who wants fresh venison for supper?” he said with a huge smile.  “Larry, get your knife, we have a deer to clean.”

Tori and Little Joe went back to work, hauling wood, Mom built the fire pit and started to get pans ready to cook.  Pop and Larry began to process their bounty.  Happiness was abounding.

“Heavenly Father,” Pop prayed as they sat at supper.  “We thank Thee for Thy bountiful provisions.  We thank Thee for this land that you have provided and we thank Thee for this great meal.  Bless this food, this night and bless us in Thy service.  We ask this in Jesus name, Amen.”

After a moment of silence, they all started chattering about the trip and how they were going to build their new home.  They discussed the name of their new ranch and boasted of the size of the herds they would have.  Laughing prevailed through the night until bedtime and sleep was sweet.

For weeks, they labored long and hard to cut trees from the river bottom and the horses worked industriously, dragging the logs to the knoll of the hills where they had planned their new home.

A neighbor or two stopped by to introduce themselves and invited them to the monthly town gathering where there was food, music, dancing and introductions of all the newcomers to the area.

While the children played, and danced, many of the adults sat around the eating area and fire, discussing events, plans, politics and religion.  It seemed that the whole community had the same goals in every area.

They all wanted a good city, where law prevailed, a church where the Word of God was taught and a community where people worked together, regardless of what their social status might be.  They all dreamed of a prosperous community where all could enjoy the bounty of crops and livestock.  They dreamed of the markets for their wares being close and plenteous.

Neighbors showed up regularly to help them build their home, a barn and corrals.  They helped build the fences to keep the small herd of cows that had begun to grow and helped them with the farm ground that they broke sod to supply grain for them and their herd for the winter months to come.

In turn, Pop, Mom and Larry helped their neighbors to till their ground, milk cows and goats, plant potatoes, corn and wheat and to help them in their building projects as well.

A furniture maker that had just moved in from New York was an instant hero in the community.  The local folks supplied him with food and an ample supply of lumber to make furniture.  His sawmill supplied not only his business with finely cut lumber, but also the much-needed boards for the building of the stores in the town that was quickly coming together.

What the Holbrook’s had not planned on was the severe drought, that claimed their corn crop.  They were successful in getting the wheat in but it just paid the expenses that they had borrowed from the bank.  It left nothing to meet their needs for the winter.  They had spent so much of their time helping others and investing into barbed wire for the fences, that they were completely unprepared to get through the winter financially.

They decided to sell more than half of their herd of cattle, but the cattle prices were so low, they were still going to be short.  They sold all the pigs, except two, and prayed for God’s mercy to get them through the winter.

By spring, the Holbrook’s were penniless and had nothing left to plant wheat with.  The horses had died through the January blizzard and their calf crop was less than hoped for.  The healthiest of the cows were the three milk cows and there was no bull to breed new calves.

“What are we going to do?” Mom almost cried that evening in bed.  “We borrowed more money than we can possibly pay back.”

“I know,” Pop agreed, holding her in his arms.  “We can’t go to the neighbors for help.  They are all in the same predicament, or they are owners of the bank.

“Let’s see what God tells us in church tomorrow.  There is not a doubt in my mind that He has the answer.  He always does.”

At the conclusion of the morning service, like always, many of the members stood around visiting and sharing their concerns.

“I don’t recollect times ever being this hard,” Pastor Jones said sympathetically.  “I really don’t know what to say, other than if God doesn’t pull off a great miracle, many will be devastated by this drought.

“When the Hebrew children came out of Egypt, they made unleavened bread.  I cannot even see where they buttered their bread.”

Everybody laughed and added their tidbits of humor as they departed and headed home.

“We have three good milk cows,” Pop smiled as they rode home in the buggy.  “How about using the cream to make a little butter?”

“Make a little butter?” Mom quizzed.  “What do you mean?”

“If you were listening this morning,” Pop chuckled, “we have the only milk cows in the area.  We can trade butter for seed wheat.  We can trade butter to rent horses to plant wheat.  We can trade butter for a bull.  That will help to keep us in milk, that will keep us in butter.”

“Torri and Joe can churn the butter and Larry can take it to the store and trade it for salt and whatever else we might need,” Mom added as she giggled at the new prospect.

“I wonder if the bankers need a little butter?” Larry added.  “If they do, they can buy it like everybody else.”

“Grand idea,” Pop laughed.  “I have no plan on ever getting into bondage with them again.”

Torri began to sing a little ditty with a quaint tune that became the family theme song, “We’re gonna make a little butter, We’re gonna to take it to the market, We’re gonna make a little money to buy a horse and in the barn we’ll park it.”

The drought drew on for another year, but what grew from that dearth was a strong family that had learned to prosper as an enterprise, as a dairy and creamery, taking in milk, cream, and eggs from local farmers and ranchers and then re-selling butter and condensed milk and cream to the local market in, eastern Colorado, northwestern Kansas and southwestern Nebraska.

Larry and Little Joe started their own aspect of business within the creamery. They purchased jack rabbits, coyotes, badgers and racoons. They then skinned them out for the hides and fed and sold the carcasses to the neighbors for their hogs.  They sold the left over and soured milk and cream to the neighbors for their hogs and the family flourished.

The hides, they sold to a local tanner, who in turn sold the preserved hides to a family who sewed the hides into gloves, vests, coats and coat collars. Which inspired the railroad to change the plan of the coming tracks to pass through their town.

The tanner also bought nearly all the deer, hog and cattle hides for gloves and leather for boots, saddles, harness, belts and a host of other farm and ranch necessities.

Nine years later, Torri, married the pastor’s son and launched out further west and south to pioneer a ministry as a circuit riding preacher to a group of churches in the developing area of the new Arizona Territory.

A child’s playful song, Make A Little Butter inspired so many of the pioneers, that it became a song of hope taught in the schools and church Sunday Schools all over Colorado and Arizona.


Submitted: December 14, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Gail-D-Prentice. All rights reserved.

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