Mary Dexter Memory

The following is transcribed from a typewritten memory of Mary Dexter who married John Mead. They are my great-great grandparents, the parents of Hudson Mead I. I am so grateful to Beth Denny (the granddaughter of William Denny who married my great Aunt Mary, sister of Husdon Mead II) for sending me the original typewritten pages, along with a number of other memorabilia from Chadron in the early 1900’s. More information will follow in subsequent posts, hopefully sooner than every six months. The “Mary Mead Richardson” in the text is my great Aunt, who first married Frank Richardson, then later married William Denny (the grandfather of Beth).

I will just post the text below verbatim:

Mary Dexter Mead

Mary Mead Richardson

            A little girl of sixteen, with long, brown curls, a hoop skirt and pantalettes, makes a different picture from our school teacher of to-day, but, nevertheless, in 1856, near the town of Niles, Michigan, just such a school-teacher, named Mary Dexter, could have been seen, seriously talking to a group of children, many of whom were as old as herself.

            Mary was born in Argyle, New York, but, because her parents had both died when she was eighteen months old, she was sent to Niles where a kind aunt, who was already struggling with nine children, offered to take her and rear her as on of her own children.  So here she had grown to maidenhood, had received a tenth grade education and immediately started teaching a school in the country, a few miles from Niles.

            It was not long before John Mead, the son of the woman at whose home Mary boarded, found himself in love with the brown-eyed, fair-haired girl; but they had a foolish lovers’ quarrel and parted.  John was soon married to someone else and Mary became engaged to a young captain.

            Seven years later we see Mary in Connecticut.  During this time John’s little wife had died and the Civil War had claimed Mary’s lover.  Once again the old love flamed, and John and Mary were married in North Hartford, New York, in 1867. Sickness and the war had taken John’s money so, he decided to take advantage of the opportunity offered him by a brother, George Mead, who had…

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…already settled in Bonhomme, South Dakota.  Two years after their marriage, while their only child, Hudson, was still a mere infant, and set out at once to make their home in the new West.

            There was not a foot of railroad in Dakota at this time, and the settlements were few and set far apart.  The Sioux Indians roamed at will over the prairies, and the buffalo grazed in herds, unmolested by the white man’s greed.

            Mary and John left the train behind at Sioux City, Iowa, and boarded a steamboat, “The Miner”, which leisurely puffed its way up the muddy Missouri.  The rolling hills on both sides of the river impressed Mary deeply.  She had never seen anything like them before, and their vastness and monotony made her feel depressed and lonesome.

            The typical pioneer hospitality was shown to Mary and her husband upon their arrival at Bonhomme.  A widowed woman, having heard, through George Mead, that they were coming, immediately gave to them, three rooms of her four-roomed log cabin.  She had white-washed the walls and, with coffee sacks sewn together, had covered the earthen floor.  Merchandise boxes were soon deftly transposed into a table and chairs, and the whole place had the air of a comfortable home within a weeks time.

            The little town consisted of twelve buildings situated on a bluff overlooking the turbid Missouri.  Life was never quiet here for Mary, for, being ambitious and hospitable, she willingly entertained the missionaries as they stopped at this isolated place to preach the gospel to the unwilling Sante (Santee?) Indian.  When her work was done she often took long horseback rides with her sister-in-law through the waving grass along the banks of the Missouri.

            The following spring Mary’s husband decided to move his merchandise stock to Choteau Creek, a stage relay station.  Business…

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…was more prosperous here, so John, immediately built a small rooming house.  They prospered well, and Mary was happy in her new work.

            The next winter was very severe, and the Indians and white settlers alike lost heavily in cattle and horses.  Spring finally came, bringing General Custer and his command from the Southland.  Knowing that they were coming, Mary, with the help of her cook, baked fifty pies, forty loaves of bread, and six gallon jars of doughnuts.  It was evident that she had never before attempted to cook for an army.  Mary’s three sisters-in-law at Springfield, South Dakota, were sent for, and the three, with the help of several cooks, baked and cooked from five in the morning until midnight during the three days Custer’s army was required to stay at Choteau Creek, because of high water.

            The night before Custer’s army left, they invited Mary and her husband to their camp for the evening.  Everything was beautiful – the mellow moonlight, the flicker of shadows from the playful campfire, and the soldiers quartet singing softly that beautiful old tune, “Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming”.  The next morning the army marched away in great joy.  The band, mounted on white horses and playing, “The Girl I Left Behind Me”, led the procession as it made its way slowly into the prairie.  Little did they dream of the awful tragedy that awaited them at the little Big Horn.

            Thus far, Mary’s pioneer life had lacked the hardships of utter poverty; but, in the following summer, the grass hoppers came in such hordes as to darken the sun.  Everything in the fields was ruined, and the people were helpless.  Mary and John Choteau Creek and went to Springfield to take charge of a hotel belonging to Johns brother.  Their business did not prosper, and for this reason they moved to Pine Ridge Indian Agency where John had secured a tradeship.  This part of the country was even wilder and more desolate.  There…

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…were many roaming tribes of hostile Indians, and the little town of Pine Ridge was stockaded to protect the white people from the Red mans treachery.

            One day Mary heard that the biggest event of the Indians life, the Sun-dance, was going to take place just outside the Pine Ridge stockade.  Of course, Mary stubbornly insisted upon seeing it, much against the will of John.  She saw the eight-five hundred Indians walk solemnly on to the grounds prepared for their dance.  She saw the virgins cut the pole, drag it to the center of the place, and set it up, with a buffalos head on the top.  She saw the roses attached to the pole and the Indian braves bound to the roses by tying a rope on a stick which was passed through two deep, torturous slits in the breast.  She saw one of the braves run backward, tearing the flesh from his breast, then run to the pole in the center and throw his arms around it, as he sobbed and prayed.  Mary had seen all that she cared to of this dance.  She returned to her home, only to be reminded of the terrible scene by the constant crys and yells of the savages.

            After this affair all was quiet until about 1890 when the Indians waged war on the Seventh Cavalry because of the false promises a “White Messiah” had made to them.  This battle, called the Battle of Wounded Knee, brought on the disastrous Indian wars.  The settlers became alarmed and moved their families to Chadron, where they were lodged in the Court House.  Mary, either because of courage or her typical stubbornness, refused to leave when the rest of the people did.  The next day she drove to a place where she was supposed to meet a man who had come back after his furniture.  However, Mary was late, and the man had gone on, so Mary drove on to Chadron alone in the wagon.  About this time seven troops of the…

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… ninth cavalry were posted in and near the Agency, and the last Indian scare was over.

            For the next eighteen years Mary lived on a ranch on White River.  She enjoyed her life there, although she had to work hard, and money was often scarce.  She made pets of a deer, an antelope, and several magpies which were her only company except her husband and son.  When Mary left the ranch to come to Chadron, she was sixty-eight years old.  The rest of her life is of little real interest, although it was always active.  She refused to live with her only son, even when she had become very old, deaf, and nearly blind.  She lived in her own house amidst her relics of the past, happy in the memory each recalled.  She never gave up and fought with great courage the infirmities of old age to which she could not reconcile herself.

            Finally, in her eighty-seventh year, she was brought to our house, much against her will; but we knew too well the danger of leaving her alone in a house.  From that time on, she never saw a lonely day.  Nevertheless, she was unhappy because she “had to give up”, to use her expression, and to give up, meant to her, the end of her life.  Perhaps it was her courage that had kept her alive, for she had been at our house no more than six months when she died, on the thirteenth of January, 1927.

            Her life was long and useful, an unusual life but a life typical of the pioneer wife and mother.  Prosperity usually hung on the slender thread of chance, and happiness depended on a courage and willingness to endure and sacrifice.

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