|War Between the States|
|The Mountain Lion|
WAR BETWEEN THE STATES
By Marjorie Browning
morning of April 8, 1865, the spring rains stopped but the sky was still
overcast. Virginia sat quietly and stared out the parlor window of her
parent’s Virginia plantation home. She was born Caroline Virginia Gills,
but everyone called her Virginia. Today her delicate flowered needlework
lay untouched on her lap.
I don’t think I’ll ever marry. Virginia was resolved. Just the time I was of age to court, all the Virginia men under 55 years old were sent off to the war. We’ve had war for four years. I’m 21 years old now and soon I’ll be so old that no one will have me. Will this War Between the States ever end?
Virginia jolted up, unaware that her needlework had fallen to the floor. She heard gunshots, then cannon shots. All the recent rumors flooded through her head. She peered out the front window and strained to see. Smoke came up from the forest here and there. In the distance she could see even more smoke. The sounds of war grew louder and louder. The rumors were right. The war is coming to us, thought Virginia.
In the background, her mother yelled orders. “Bring the children to me. Tell everyone to come into the house.” Once everyone was safe inside, Virginia’s mother continued, “Everyone go upstairs. Virginia, take care of the young children.”
Virginia rushed the children upstairs. The few remaining household and farm slaves followed her. “Sit down on the floor behind the beds. Keep away from the windows and keep quiet.” Everyone obeyed Virginia’s firm voice. With everyone in place, she cautiously neared the window, stood behind the window frame, and pulled the curtain back just enough to see.
They barely got upstairs when they heard knocking on the front door. Virginia’s Mother paused a moment in the entryway. She straightened her dress, took a deep breath then opened the door. Before her stood a Confederate officer. His rumpled unmarked clothes, covered with dirt and blood, looked more brown than confederate gray. Only the buttons on his coat revealed that he was an officer. His arm was around a wounded soldier.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry to bother you.” The officer spoke politely. “Can we bring some of our most wounded soldiers into a back room in your home to treat them? We’d also like to use your porch to treat the others if we may. We will only be here one day. The Yanks are hot on our trail and we have to get to the Appomattox train station. Our men are a might hungry too, Ma’am. We would be much obliged if you had some food for them. Most of the men haven’t eaten much since we left Petersburg six days ago.”
“Of course. Please come in.” Virginia’s mother moved back and held the door wide open. “ We’re glad to do anything to help you and the Confederacy. I’ll have my servants get some food.” She called upstairs. Soon a black man and women cautiously came down. She whispered some orders to them and they disappeared to the back of the house. When the two soldiers entered the parlor, the wounded man didn’t notice that his bloody foot stepped on Virginia’s blue embroidered flowers. Her ruined handwork lay forgotten by the front door.
From the upstairs window, Virginia could see all her front yard down to the road. Horses pulled cannons and supply wagons. Some soldiers ran, some marched, and some walked slowly down the road. Exhausted men that collapsed in the road were pulled to the side so the army could pass by. There didn’t seem to be any order to what she saw. Men, horses, cannons, and supply wagons blended together, covered in the Virginia mud. A Confederate officer stood near the road and yelled at the men.
“Keep going west! We have to get to Appomattox today to beat the Yanks there.” He turned away from the road, and pointed to Virginia’s home. “Take those seriously wounded men up to the house.”
The young children began to cry when they heard the moans and screams of the soldiers down stairs. The surgeons had already begun to amputate shattered arms and legs. The medical team selectively treated only the wounded that had a chance to live. They did not have time to help those they thought would die. Even after years of war, it was still a difficult decision for the doctor.
Virginia’s mother came upstairs and directed her to gather all the sheets and other fabric that could serve as bandages. “Have a servant bring all the fabric down stairs but you stay upstairs with the children. I want you to take care of them and I also want to keep you away from these young soldiers. You are young and beautiful. Many of these men haven’t seen a woman for years. I have heard stories in town about how dangerous it is for women near the army.”
Virginia heard the stories too. She was glad to stay upstairs but she was worried about her mother. Her mother was a beautiful woman that didn’t look her age. She held her short frame erect and walked with confidence. Her mother had a regal look about her. She never hesitated to step in and take charge of the plantation when her husband left for the war. Years passed with her mother in charge. Today she continued that role. She ordered servants to gather and cook food for the soldiers, to make bandages, and to move furniture. A Room were quickly cleared for the make shift hospital.
It wasn’t long until Virginia’s mother came upstairs again. She was controlled but Virginia could tell her mother had more war news. “Virginia,” she started slowly, her eyes scanned the room. “The Officers have told me that they will be gone by morning because the Union army will be here at dawn. They told me we should hide everything we can and be prepared to leave at the first light. I have ordered the servants to pry up the floorboards and hide everything we can under the floor. Here are our silver spoons. I want you and the older girls to sew these spoons into the layers of your petticoats. Sew them far apart from each other and separated by another layer of fabric. We will wear them when we leave in the morning and the soldiers must not hear them clank against each other. I’ll be up to help you when I’m sure everything is hidden.
Virginia took the box of spoons. The sewing basket was balanced on top. She quickly slipped off her many petticoats. Hopped skirts were not popular in this country region. Most women wore eight or nine petticoats instead. Tonight she would wear more.
Virginia was a well-trained Southern Bell, daughter of a plantation owner. In addition to needlework, she was taught to run the plantation when the men were gone, to organize the family’s social calendar, and oversee all the slaves. Tonight it was her needlework that might save all that would be left of the plantation after this war. She was glad that they had taken the precaution to melt down all their silver coins into spoons. She quickly began to secure her family’s fortune into her petticoats.
Her sewing was interrupted again and again. Her mother asked her to bring certain valuable items to the top of the stairs. The servants carried the items down stairs, then stuffed them into the openings in the floor. Food, dishes, clothes, rugs, family pictures off the wall, everything that could move was put under the floorboards. Some things were even put under the wooden front porch steps. When the boards and steps were nailed back in place, they looked untouched. All that was left upstairs and down was the largest pieces of furniture and the stripped beds.
In the late afternoon, Virginia’s mother brought her a small metal chest. “Keep this for me until later. I will hide it after dark.”
The sounds were deafening. Sounds of guns and cannons were outside. Inside were sounds of screaming wounded men under the surgeons’ saws mixed with the sounds of all the plantation possessions being moved and stuffed into openings in the floor.
Virginia thought it was nearly impossible to get everything done in just one day. But in all the chaos, she kept sewing. She finished sewing all her petticoats full of silver, then started on her mother’s. The sounds from the makeshift hospital continued all night but the guns finally quieted when the darkness engulfed the forest.
“I’m ready to take the chest now.” Virginia’s mother reached behind her for the treasure box on the bed. “Keep everyone away from the windows so no one will see me.” It was so late that most everyone was asleep in their cloths on the empty beds, but Virginia nodded in agreement.
“Get a shovel and a lantern and meet me at the back door.” Virginia’s mother motioned to the large black man to hurry.
Before she went outside, she moved to a private corner, turned her back and opened the chest. She took a quick inventory of the gold and jewels that were inside. Her hand lovingly brushed over the beautiful treasures, many which were passed down to her by her mother and father. “I wonder if I’ll ever see these again?” Virginia heard her mother whisper. A quick shake of her head brought her back to reality. She closed and locked the chest, then wrapped it under her apron. She hurried downstairs and out the back door.
There by the door stood a tall figure. He held a shovel and lantern. His dark silhouette was almost invisible against the midnight sky. When his eyes met her face she brought her index finger to her lips. He nodded with understanding, then they quietly tiptoed past the sleeping soldiers and out into the yard. Once there, she held the lantern then motioned for him to dig up the bush in the corner of the garden. When the bush was out of the ground, a signal was given the servant to dig deeper. When the hole was deep enough, the man crawled out and lowered the box into the bottom. He turned and looked at the women. She motioned for him to fill the hole. When it was half full, she stopped him and pointed to the big bush lying on the ground. He lowered it into the hole then surrounded it with soil. After he tamped down the dirt, he smoothed it out with the shove. No one could tell that the soil was disturbed. Their mission completed with stealth, the two figures stole back past the exhausted soldiers, deep in sleep.
It was well after midnight when Virginia’s mother sat down on the bed next to her. “There is only a little more sewing to do mother.” Virginia handed her a needle and thread and a petticoat. There were only a few more spoons in the box between them. The two women sewed quietly into the night. Unspoken love passed between mother and daughter. This was a time of great danger. They wondered to themselves what the light of morning would bring. This might be their last time together. They tried to burn this precious moment into their memory.
The other young women of the family had fallen asleep long ago in their spoon-laden clothes. Now that the last chore was finally done, the mother and daughter put on their heavy skirts, lay fully dressed on the bare bed and waited for the light of morning.
The warning was correct. When dawn came, a soldier pounded on the door. The whole household bounded from their beds. It didn’t take long for the dressed children and slaves to line up at the front door. They were alone in the house. The confederate soldiers had gone some time in the night.
“Open this door,” yelled the harsh voice outside. “We are taking over this house.”
With a firm voice Virginia’s mother whispered to everyone, “Walk quietly in a line. Don’t look at any of the soldiers. Look straight ahead and walk tall. Let me do all the talking. Girls, walk slowly and don’t let any of those spoons clank together.” Virginia’s mother turned and faced the front door. She straightened her dress, and took a deep breath. When the proud woman was ready, she opened the door.
“You need to go right now. We’re taking over this house. We need food. Give us what you have.” The dirty Union soldier pushed past the women and children and quickly looked around the almost empty house.
“You can have what little is left.” he was told. That was all that was said. Heads held high, the women, the children and the family slaves walked out the door and into the oncoming enemy army.
As Virginia passed the front door, she noticed her soiled and bloody needlework on the floor. Her old life was gone forever. She did not know what life would be like now.
Virginia walked slowly down the front steps and thought to herself, Will this War Between the States ever end?
When Virginia left her house that day she did not know that afternoon the War Between the States would be over. Only a few hours walk from her home at Appomattox, in the McLean’s house, two brave and weary generals faced each other, shook hands then signed the truce to end the war.
Within a week most of the two armies were gone from Appomattox. In a month, they were all gone. When the Gill family returned to their home, they found everything still under the floorboards, untouched. But out in the garden the bush lay on the ground. A young black slave who wanted to gain favors with a Union soldier, told him to dig under the bush to find the family valuables. He did dig up the bush, but he didn’t dig deep enough. Deeper in the hole, safely lay the box that was treasured by the family.
To the Gill women’s joy, all the Gill men returned home safely after the war. Not far from the Gill’s home, the Morris women also rejoiced to see all the Morris men come home.
Two years after the war ended, Virginia married a war veteran, Samuel A Morris. They lived with Samuel’s uncle, Nathan Morris. When Nathan died a few years later, Samuel inherited Nathan’s plantation called Westview. Samuel and Virginia raised their 7 children at Westview. On July 3, 1879,their fifth child, Minnie Hardaway Morris was born.
On January 6, 1903 Minnie left Virginia to visit her younger married sister Elizabeth Morris Goode. She left Virginia and traveled by steam engine and stagecoach to Bisbee, Tombstone Territory. It was there she met and married James Fain Bergman. Their first son, Walter was born in Bisbee. Their second son, Aubrey Jacob was born in Lowell.
In 1915 Minnie and James moved to Santa Ana, California where their third son, James Morris was born.
In 1918 the Bergman family moved to Brea, California. Through good times and bad, through happy times and sad, the family remained in Brea. Though some would leave for the war, or leave because of the Depression, they would always return to their beloved Brea. By 1949 James and Minnie, their three sons and families all were living in Brea.
When Minnie was in her 70s and 80s she told her granddaughter, Marjorie, the many stories of her life and of her mother’s life in the civil war. When Marjorie was grown and had children of her own, she told these stories to her two sons, Jeremy and Stephan.
On August 6, 1972, Minnie Hardaway Morris Bergman went to be with her Lord and Savor. She was laid to rest in her beloved Brea. But her stories live on in the hearts of those who knew her and in the hearts of those who will know her through her stories.
Copyrighted March 20, 2006,
410 N.E. Birch Street
Issaquah, WA 98027
By Marjorie Browning
Minnie, there’s a tent meetin’ in town today.” John jumped up and down
excitedly. “Jus’ us go. Please. Please. If you ask Ma, she’ll say yes to
“That would be fun,” Minnie nodded. “People are coming from all over the county. Maybe we could shop at the general store for your Ma.”
Minnie found her sister in the kitchen. “Sister, can Cousin John and I go to the general store for you? Maybe while we’re there, we could stop by the tent meeting just outside of town.”
“Oh please Ma. Please.” John jumped up and down again. He didn’t care much about the groceries, but he loved the excitement of the tent meetings. They didn’t have these meetings very often. When they did come to town, John loved to hear the fiery sermons and the “Amen” and “Hallelujah Brother” responses. But most of all John loved to sing and clap.
“Well,” Minnie’s Sister responded. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt. We do need some things from the store, and a little preaching never hurt anybody. But don’t stay too late and get caught out in the dark. Minnie, you’re a good wagon driver but you take care now and keep an eye on the sky. The weather is so changeable this time of year. I know it is summer, but don’t forget your coats just in case a chill comes up.”
“Oh yes Ma. Thank you Ma. We won’t stay too late. We’ll be home before dark.” John grabbed his cap and ran to the barn. John loved to ride into town with Minnie. She might sing songs or tell him a story. She was a great storyteller.
Minnie enjoyed visits in Charlottesville, Virginia with her sister and family. Her oldest sister’s name was Ann Morris Fitzpatrick, but Minnie had always called her Sister. Minnie was actually the children’s aunt but it was the family custom to call each other “Cousin.”
It was years ago that Minnie finished school and graduated from eighth grade. Most girls married right after eighth grade, but Minnie was twenty-three years old and still unmarried. She was quite happy to keep the boys at arms’ length. Many handsome young men tried to court her but no one “caught her fancy.” She was ready for adventure, not marriage.
Seven-year-old John was the youngest of Minnie’s sister’s three children. He loved to spend time with Minnie. She taught him things that her father had taught her at his age. Minnie taught John how to ride a horse, drive a wagon, and shoot a gun. When he was older, she planned to teach him how to drive a team of horses.
John was already out in the barn when Minnie ran upstairs to get her coat. Minnie’s sister went to get her pocketbook, then met Minnie at the back door. “Here is the grocery list and my pocketbook with the money you need. I also gave you some extra money to put in the offering at the tent meeting.” Her sister warned Minnie one more time. “Be sure to watch the skies and come home right away if it looks like rain. Summer storms can come up so fast in these parts.”
Minnie nodded, “Yes Sister, I’ll keep watch.” With the pocketbook in one hand and her coat in the other, she headed outside.
Minnie followed John into the barn, unhooked the bridle from the barn wall, and walked up to her favorite horse. She loved horses with lots of energy. This horse was energetic but also skittish. He fought Minnie and the bridle but she didn’t mind. She finally got the bridle on him, then hitched him up to the wagon. She climbed up to the wagon seat and drove out of the barn. John closed the doors behind her. As they drove down the dusty road, they smiled, they laughed and they sang. They loved go to town. They were on an adventure.
It was a beautiful day for a drive. The bright yellow-green leaves of spring had turned into the dark green leaves of summer. The air was hot and heavy but they didn’t mind. To these two adventurers, the humidity was only a sign that summer was in full bloom. They barely noticed the weather. Their minds were far away. They would soon join the excitement of the nearby town, but their imaginations wandered to the cities beyond, the states beyond, and even the countries beyond. Their lives lay ahead of them. They were like thoroughbreds that tremble with anticipation as they wait for the gaits to open. They knew they would soon reach a turning point in their lives and they were ready for adventure.
Minnie and John were lost in thought. The long trip into town seemed short. They sang only a few songs, and told no stories. They could do that on the way home.
The town was busier than usual. There were even some strangers that Minnie and John did not know. As they climbed down from the wagon, John asked, “Do you know those folk, Cousin Minnie?”
“No, I don’t Cousin John. I suspect they are strangers that came from the neighboring counties to go to the camp meeting. I’ve heard the preaching is right powerful. A good preacher can really bring them in. Let’s get our groceries then ask around about the meeting.”
Minnie nodded and John tipped his hat as they passed familiar faces along the boardwalk. The general store was especially busy. Other people had done just as Minnie and John had done. They used an excuse to shop so that they were in town just before the tent meeting. The town was generally quiet, especially this close to suppertime, but today the town buzzed with people and excitement.
Minnie patiently waited to talk to the clerk at the general store. John walked around the store. He looked wide-eyed at the jars and jars of candy, the barrels of potato chips and crocks of crisp sour pickles. Then he was drawn to the corner where the tack supplies were stacked. He would have his own horse soon and he dreamed he would own the very best equipment. His parents would probably give him an older, slower horse, but to him the horse would be a “thoroughbred from the finest of Knightly lines.” He loved to read about King Arthur. “I wonder what kind of royal steed King Arthur had and what kind of bridle the King put on his horse.” John was deep in thought.
While John wandered about the store, Minnie waited for the clerk then handed him the shopping list. “Have you heard much about the preacher coming tonight?” Minnie asked the storekeeper.
“No Ma’am,” the storekeeper answered. “But I heard that they have a right good pump organ player. They say the preacher sings even louder than he preaches.”
Minnie tried to hide her girlish excitement. She wanted to appear grown up and mature. She was a young lady now.
“Oh that sounds very inspirational,” she responded seriously. Only someone who knew her well could see that sparkle in her eyes that betrayed her girlish excitement. “A song can touch the hearts of those in need even when a good sermon can’t,” she told the shopkeeper.
“I suppose”, the shopkeeper responded. He didn’t care much about all the fire and brimstone preaching. He never went for all that “church talk.” But on that day he was very happy about all the extra business that the tent meeting brought to his store. As he filled Minnie’s order, a faint smile conveyed his pleasure at his unusually full cash drawer.
He reached for the large sack of sugar. “Is that your wagon out there Miss Morris?” He slung the heavy sack on his shoulder and headed toward the door.
“Yes, that’s my wagon,” Minnie called back to him. “Oh, I just remembered something. Could you also add to my list 100 pounds of potatoes? Our crop hasn’t come in yet and we’re plum out.”
The storekeeper nodded a response as he passed her to go to the back of the store where the bags of potatoes were piled high in the cool corner. The middle-aged storekeeper nimbly hoisted the large bag on his back and walked through the store to the wagon. It was so easy for him to carry those heavy loads that an observer could have only guessed the weight of the bag. He slung it over the side of the wagon and the weight of its’ contests forced open the seam of the bag as it crashed to the bed of the wagon with a thud.
“I’m sorry Miss Morris. The potatoes spilt out of the bag,” he apologized as he returned to the store to finish loading her order.
“Oh, no bother.” Minnie’s mind wasn’t on the groceries anyway. She could hardly wait to get to the tent meeting. She hurriedly paid the bill, picked up her pocketbook, and then called to John. “Cousin John. Cousin John. We’ve finished now. Time to go,” she called across the store.
Minnie’s high-pitched voice pierced John’s daydreams. He quickly remembered the real reason they came to town: not for groceries, but for the tent meeting. John ran out the door and climbed up on the wagon seat. Minnie called to the horse, “Come on boy.” She clicked her tongue and released the brake. John grabbed his cap as they drove down the street.
Just outside the town, everything was ready for the tent meeting. The tent was set up on flat land with plenty of cleared space for horses, carriages and wagons to park outside. Inside, the wooden folding chairs stood in straight lines on the sawdust floor. It was as if they stood at attention, ready to obey those eternal commands, “Onward Christian Solders, Marching as to War.” Those old hymns were soon to ring out.
Minnie and John arrived a little early but they didn’t mind. They wanted to be early so they wouldn’t miss any of the excitement. The chairs were set out earlier that morning, but only now were the flowers placed on the platform. The preacher gave his assistants some last minute instructions. He pointed to each aisle as he held the offering plates and told them how and when he wanted the offering taken.
Minnie and John choose chairs up front. To save their places, John put his cap on one chair and Minnie put her coat on another. Now they were free to mingle with the crowd until just before the meeting started.
They chattered merrily with their old friends and eyed newcomers as they entered the tent. Minnie was not shy. It was quite natural for her to start conversations with strangers. She greeted them and welcomed them to the town. John was less gregarious. He was more content to seek out some school chums and swap tales of their summer escapades.
When Minnie and John arrived, they did not notice the heat, but as the tent began to fill up with people, the temperatures inside rose. This was but a minor trial for these Christian pilgrims. One by one, fans appeared. The women pulled fancy lace fans from their pocketbooks while the men made fans from the evening programs.
“It is time to sit down now John,” Minnie advised. “They are ready to start.” Just as Minnie and John sat down, the service began.
The local minister stepped up to the podium. His part was to welcome everyone, open with prayer and introduce the traveling evangelist. He mustered up as loud a voice as he could and nervously addressed the crowd. He wasn’t used to speaking to such a large group. He wanted to make a good impression on the three visiting ministers and the local socialite who sat in a reserved seat in the front row. He especially wanted to make a good impression on the visiting evangelist.
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to this revival,” he voiced cracked. “Shall we pray?” He had intended to pray “off the cuff.” He thought it would be the finest and most inspired prayer of his ministry. This famous evangelist from the North would surely be impressed and perhaps compliment him on his fine ministry. But just in case he might get too nervous, he decided to prepare a written prayer. He quickly jotted down some notes on the back of the program. His shaky hands searched each pocket for these notes. He finally found the scribbled text and prayed, “Our Father, bless those who have come to hear Your Word……..”
Though he spoke with the strongest voice he could, his voice slowly dwindled down to the usual muttering style to which all in his congregation were so accustomed. All his parishioners loved him but they knew his gift was not to preach, nor probably not even to teach. His gift was to persist in his attempt to “lead his flock.” He had always been there and would always be there. He was like the huge oak tree that stood near the tent. The tree roots grew deep. The tree had always grown in that field, at least in the memory of those in the tent that night. The parishioners also had deep roots. Many of them had family trees that went all the way back to before the Revolutionary War. This well-knit group bent their heads humbly and patiently and waited for the mumbled prayer to conclude.
“And now it is my privilege to introduce to you one of the most well known evangelist of our time………….” He continued to talk but most people could not hear him. His shaky hand motioned to the side of the tent. The evangelist confidently strode from the side and stepped up on the platform. The evangelist exuded a self-assurance that the other minister only dreamed of. The two figures before the crowd were very different. The evangelist stood straight and tall. He looked handsome in his finely tailored suit. He towered over the plainly attired and slightly slumping minister.
“God bless you Brothers and Sisters,” the evangelist’s voice boomed. Every person in the tent could hear him clearly. They all felt a shared exhilaration. The magnetism of the evangelist thrilled this country congregation. “I feel the Spirit here tonight,” the evangelist declared.
“Amen” and “Hallelujah” came from the crowd.
“I feel a powerful Spirit,” he added in a louder voice. “That Spirit is in the air, moving among us, pulling at our hearts. Can you feel it, Brothers and Sisters?”
There were loud and rhythmic answers. “Yes Brother.” “Amen Brother.” “Hallelujah!” “Yes I feel it!” The crowd was instantly swept into the speakers spell. A change came upon them. The shy became boisterous. The stoic swayed with hands held above their heads. The usually cantankerous boys look angelic. Even the haughty socialites were enthralled. The crowd became one body, swept along by the message that flowed from the lips of the powerful evangelist. He waved his arms like a mighty conductor before an orchestra: first loud, then soft: smooth here, detached there: fast followed by slow. The people were right with him. They never missed a beat.
Minnie and John were swept along with everyone else. “Amen,” they answered. They raised their hands. They swayed with the crowd when they sang and clapped.
The evangelist knew just when to add a hymn in his delivery. He had preached many years. His delivery was honed and razor sharp. At the very height of his sermon, he motioned for the men to take the offering.
“Keep on the Sunny Side of the Street,” he led the congregation in song as they joyfully dug deep into their pockets.
“The store keeper was right,” Minnie thought to herself. “He does sing louder than he preaches.”
After the collection was gathered, the evangelist resumed the fervor of his sermon. From what seemed like the zenith of emotion, he led the crowd to even greater heights until finally he peaked with an altar call. He pleaded. He ordered. He marched from one side of the platform to the other. He pounded the podium. He dropped his voice suddenly to almost a whisper in order to coax the wayward souls to come to the front of the tent.
“Come forward,” he bellowed. They came; one here, one there until it seemed like everyone in the tent was going forward. The urge to go to the front was almost uncontrollable even for those who had already made that commitment years earlier. Suddenly there was a hushed silence. After what seemed like an eternity, the evangelist raised his hands high over the repentant followers, blessed them, and ended with a short prayer.
It was over. The preacher stepped down from the platform and slipped out a back way to a waiting wagon. There was an awkward silence. Everyone still felt that euphoria and stood quietly for a moment. Slowly the mesmerized congregation picked up their hats and coats and walked quietly out of the tent. Minnie and John were carried along with the crowd into the cool evening air.
The coolness of the evening air shocked Minnie. She now knew what was outside the tent. She was so entranced by the evangelist that she completely forgot to notice the approaching nightfall. She originally planned to leave early, but now it was late, very late.
Why it’s almost dark, Minnie thought. She didn’t want to alarm John so she kept her fears to herself. She thought ahead as they climbed to the seat of their wagon. Looks like we have a little over a half hour of light left. That will put us on the road for about the last twenty minutes in the dark. We should be over the river by then and onto the straight open road towards home. The horse should be able to find his way to the barn from there. I’ll give him the reigns and let him find the way in the dark. We’ll be all right. Minnie felt a little comforted.
Lost deep in thought, Minnie mechanically released the brake and pulled the horse out onto the road. When she arrived before the meeting, she had parked nearest the road because she planned to leave early. It was easy to leave now. They didn’t have to wait for the other wagons.
Minnie’s silence was strange to John. She was usually very talkative. She should be especially excited after such a thrilling revival. What a spectacle. John did not wait for Minnie to start the conversion. “Wasn’t it wonderful,” John exclaimed. “I loved the singing! And that preacher, what was his name? He was great! He sure can bellow can’t he?” John finally turned to look at Minnie.
John was surprised to see that Minnie wasn’t her usual energetic self. Minnie sat still with a serious expression. Her eyes searched the sky. She decided to share her concerns with John.
“John, I hate to dampen your spirits after such a wonder revival. Yes, I agree it was thrilling. However we made a serious mistake. We should have left sooner. It will get dark before we get home. But never you worry. The horse can take us home the last few minutes in the dark. The road will be straight, flat and in the open. Looks like we’ll have a beautiful full moon to light our way home.”
John’s face looked so trusting that Minnie was encouraged. John wasn’t afraid. He had been out past dark many times. His young adventuresome spirit didn’t take time to remember that he had never been this far from home in the dark.
“We’ll be fine,” he reassured Minnie, “Besides, what could possibly happen to us. We’ve been on this road so many times that I could walk it in my sleep. Jus’ us sing Cousin Minnie. I just love ‘Shall We Gather by the River.’” John’s voice rang out through the darkening night sky.
Minnie joined in the song but she did not sing with her usual boisterous voice. Instead she sang softer, almost to herself. The words of the song only flamed her fears. …Gather by the river….. The river, the river, she thought as she sang. I hope we can get through that covered bridge and over the river before dark. Why did I hitch up this horse today? I should have taken one of the slower, calmer horses. Minnie chided herself.
Minnie was excellent with horses. She always enjoyed the most spirited animals. She never liked to ride or drive one of those “slow, old ladies’ horses.” Tonight, however, she regretted she had chosen such a spirited animal. Can I get this skittish horse through that covered bridge tonight? she asked herself. Maybe I can tear some of the ruffles off one of my petticoats and use that to blindfold him. Yes. That should work. She sighed lightly. She felt a little comforted because she solved one of her problems.
Minnie was not easy to scare. She was very confident in her ability to shoot guns and ride and drive horses. Her father had taught this “apple of his eye” to be the best horsewoman and sharpshooter in the county. Many of the local boys, John included, envied her abilities. Her skills made her self-assured. She was able to get out of difficult situations. This night, however, Minnie felt a little uneasy.
“Why don’t we sing some more?” Minnie said to John. “Singing always helps you get your mind off your troubles.” Singing did help John forget about their situation. He sang at the top of his lungs. His mind flashed back to all that happened at the tent meeting. John was oblivious to what was around him. He was lost in song.
Minnie sang with John but she was acutely aware of the situation. She drove the wagon faster than usual but still the night came sooner than she planned. I don’t think we will get over the bridge before dark, she thought. To add to her troubles, a strong wind came up and dark clouds blew in from the West. She knew that this time of year violent storms could suddenly develop. Minnie was angry with herself. Sister warned me, she thought. Why didn’t I leave that meeting early? Now I not only got myself in a bad spot, but John is in danger too. Maybe we can at least beat the rain even if we can’t beat the dark.
The hot muggy air cooled slightly. A gentle mist fell as the last light left the sky. If only the full moon would stay out from under those clouds, Minnie thought. Minnie was strong willed, but that night she couldn’t will that storm to wait until they were safe at home.
The mist changed to a drizzle. “Here Cousin John. Take this cape from my coat. It just buttons off. I wish you’d brought your coat. You must be cold by now.” Minnie unbuttoned the cape and put it over John’s shoulders.
John was grateful. He was soaked. The air did not seem very cold to John, but the wind blew against him and he was chilled. The cape hung just past his waist. It left his legs wet and uncovered, but it did provide some warmth. “Thank you Cousin Minnie.” John snuggled close to her.
The two “Cousins” drove down the road in silence. Their spirits were darkened along with the darkened skies. They put on a good front, even to themselves. Deep in a far corner of their thoughts, fears festered, but they were still brave. They didn’t think they could ever be in danger. In their young minds, they would always be protected. They thought they could conquer any challenge and win. Perhaps this would be the night that their dreams would be shattered by reality.
The drizzle changed to rain then to a downpour. They were totally soaked now. Their drenched clothes became heavier and heavier. They rode on in silence. Night finally over took them, but a full moon peaked out between the rain clouds to give them a little light. Minnie glanced over her shoulder. For a moment, the full moon lit up the sky and she could see the rain had filled the back of the wagon. The sugar was ruined and the potatoes that fell out of the bag now floated on the trapped water. Minnie turned to look ahead again. The groceries were not important now. Her mission now was to get home safely.
Minnie was deep in thought as she drove. It’s dark and wet, but the horse knows the way home. If the weather doesn’t get worse, we’ll be all right except when we have to cross the bridge. When we come to the bridge, I’ll just have to cover the horse’s eyes or he’ll never go over it. Why did I bring this horse? It’s no use to think back now, she reminded herself again. I just have to make this horse do what I want.
John’s unusual silence revealed his growing anxiety. He had never been this far from home in such a storm. John clenched his fists and tried in vain to stop his shaking hands. “Cousin Minnie, will we make it home tonight? I ‘magin’ everyone will be right worried ‘bout us out in this storm.” John snuggled even closer to Minnie.
“Why sure we’ll make it home,” she reassured him. “This old horse could make it back to the barn in a blizzard if he had to. All we have to do is sit back and let him pull the wagon.” Minnie sounded so sure of herself that John felt much better. He always felt safe when he was with his favorite “Cousin Minnie.”
Minnie had soothed Johns fears but not her own. She knew the real dangers of a storm like this. Minnie put her fear aside and turned her full attention to the nervous horse. She had to control him. This horse was skittish in normal weather, but in this storm, he was almost impossible to rein in. Even though she was an excellent driver, it took all her strength to keep the horse under her control and on the road. Minnie leaned back on the seat. Her weight tightened the reins and kept the horses head high. With a constant drone, she spoke softly to the horse. He walked on a fine line; obey its master or run off the road in uncontrollable frenzy and fear.
Minnie’s hands were numb and cold because she held the reigns so tightly. Suddenly the sky lit up. Lightning tore through the clouds. The reflection of the lightning danced on the wet reigns. Only seconds later, deafening thunder rocked the two soggy travelers. John held his ears in anticipation of a second thunder to follow another flash.
With the lighting and thunder, the horse began to bolt. He kicked, reared and twisted. He desperately tried to rid himself of the cumbersome wagon. Minnie reacted instinctively. She knew that the horse had to be calmed or he would break the halter or even turn the wagon over.
“I’ll try to unhitch the horse from the wagon,” Minnie yelled to John over the booming thunder. “Maybe we could wait out this storm under those tall trees.”
Minnie pulled hard on the reins to stop the horse as she pushed down on the foot brake. They came to a stop and she climbed down. Just as she reached up to the horse’s head, another lightening bolt streaked the dark sky. The lightening was so close that the deafening thunder immediately followed. The frightened horse reared and kicked. The nimble Minnie dropped the reins and jumped back just in time to escape his front hoofs. She knew there was only one way now to control the horse. She had to get on his back and grab the reins.
Minnie quickly jumped back on the wagon seat. To protect John, she ordered him to get off. If the horse couldn’t be controlled, she wanted to be the only one in danger. “Run to the shelter of those trees,” She yelled over the thunder. “I’ll try to unhitch the horse.” John couldn’t imagine how that frantic kicking beast could ever be unhitched, but he obeyed and ran to the protection of the trees.
With John off the wagon, Minnie quickly set about her task. She gingerly balanced herself, placed one foot on the seat and the other foot on the front board of the wagon. At the right moment between kicking and rearing, she leaped on the horse’s back. The unexpected weight startled the horse for an instant. He froze just long enough for Minnie to lean over his neck and grab a rein.
“There boy. It’s all right boy. Calm down.” Her soothing voice calmed the horse. The thunder stopped long enough for Minnie to grab the other reign, and slide down to the ground. She talked with a soothing voice as she unhitched the horse and led him to the tree where John stood.
“Perhaps we can wait out the storm here,” She called to John.
The soggy travelers stood under the tree and waited. The drenching rain continued on in its fury. The lighting pierced the sky while the thunder echoed the frenzy of the storm.
Suddenly Minnie realized they were in great danger. She had once seen a tall tree split all the way to the ground by lightning. That tree was as tall as the tree that they now stood under.
“Come cousin John,” Minnie called out. “ I think we better hitch the horse back up and head home. We’re safer in the wagon than under this tree. We’ll just have to drive home in the storm.”
Minnie was thankful that the horse had settled down a little. As they hitched him up, he just whinnied and stepped gingerly back and forth. John helped her hitch up the horse then climbed on the wagon seat. Minnie joined him on the seat, clicked her tongue and shook the reigns. They were on their way again.
John followed Minnie’s directions. He did not know how dangerous it was to stand under a tree or ride in a wagon in a thunderstorm. He vacillated between his fear of this powerful storm and his excitement of the adventure. He had complete trust in Minnie. He knew she would get them home, even in this storm.
Minnie was a little shaken, but she was still confident. Her confidence, however, was balanced by an appropriate respect for the power of the storm and the power of the horse if he should break loose or run out of control.
The lightning still lit the sky. John snuggled closer to Minnie. “We’ll be alright cousin John,” she reassured him. “To lighten our spirits, why don’t we sing “Keep on the Sunny side of the Street,” just like we did at the camp meeting. Let’s sing as loud as we can. Maybe we can chase away this storm.”
Even thought they enjoyed singing, neither one of them was very good at carrying a tune. They began a little feebly, but with each verse, their voices raised in volume. It seemed as though they were trying to out sing the Almighty and His thunder. The backdrop of the towering ancient trees, the billowing black clouds, the blinding lightning and deafening thunder, dwarfed these two night travelers. Yet through the storm, their voices raised all the way to God. They were safe. They were protected. They knew God heard their song’s plea.
They suddenly stopped singing. They didn’t stop because their voices were hoarse, but because the horse suddenly stopped. There before them loomed the covered bridge. The horse stopped for only a moment, then he reared and kicked. He tried to run off the road. He wanted to go anywhere but not into that dark bridge. Minnie held the reigns tightly and talked softly to him. When he finally quieted down, she proceeded with her plan.
Minnie jumped off the wagon. Quickly she reached under her long skirt and tore off a ruffle from one of her petticoats. She tied the fabric over the horse’s eyes, pulled on the reigns and led him forward. It was dark in the covered bridge. The pounding rain was deafening as it crashed on the roof and echoed inside. The horse was skittish. He jumped when the thunder rattled the bridge, but he followed Minnie. Minnie was relieved when they emerged out of the other end of the bridge.
The lighting had stopped but the dark storm clouds completely blanketed the sky, covering the moon. It was very dark now. Neither Minnie nor John could see beyond the front of the horse, but somehow they felt safer now. The lightning had stopped and the covered bridge was behind them. They were on the open straight road headed toward home.
Minnie loosened the reigns and let the horse find the way. She knew that the horse could see in the dark even when she couldn’t. Even in the dark, Minnie knew they were near home when the horse began to quicken his step. The poor horse wanted to be safe and dry at home as much as his two dripping wet passengers.
“Look Cousin John. I see a light.” Minnie grabbed the reigns again and clicked her tongue. She wanted the horse to hurry toward the light. “Come on boy. Let’s go home.” The horse ran towards the light.
A lamp shone on the back porch as they pulled up to the barn. John jumped down to open the barn door. When Minnie’s sister and her husband heard the door open, they ran out to meet the weary pair. The worried mother hugged her son and ran her fingers through his soggy hair.
“Are you all right? We were so worried about you. We were just about to send out a search party.”
“Oh we’re just fine Ma. You shouldn’ a worried. We were just a little late. That’s all.” John’s bravery suddenly returned. He stood as tall as he could. He looked so proud of himself. He acted as if he had just been awarded a purple heart for “bravery in the line of duty.”
Minnie was a little more realistic. “We’re a little wet but all right,” Minnie answered. “I’m sorry I didn’t get back before dark. It was hard to drive in the dark, but when we also got caught in this storm, it really put our Guarding Angels to a test.”
Don’t worry about that now,” Sister answered Minnie. “What matters now is that you are home and safe. Honey,” she called to her husband. “Can you put the horse and wagon in the barn while I get these children into some dry clothes?”
Minnie cringed at being called a child. She thought she had proved her adulthood tonight. She humbly obeyed, however, and changed into dry clothes as fast as her numb fingers allowed. With a blanket wrapped around her, she returned to the warmth of the wood-burning kitchen stove. She sipped hot chocolate and talked late into the night with her sister. When all the details of the trip were told, Minnie felt a sudden heaviness. Safe and warm at home, the adrenalin finally wore off and she realized how exhausted she was. She bid good night to her sister and dragged herself upstairs to bed. Minnie was asleep instantly. That night she dreamed of her future filled with many exciting adventures.
Copyrighted March 20, 2006,
410 N.E. Birch Street
Issaquah, WA 98027
By Marjorie Browning
heard her horse whiney and stir. She rushed across the small one room log
cabin then stood motionless in front of the window. As she watched, her
horse became more and more agitated. Now he kicked and reared, and tried
to free himself from the tree where his reign was tied. Finally he broke
free. The reign didn’t break. The branch broke.
Minnie never saw her horse this frightened. It was something bigger than a rattlesnake that caused him to run. Years ago, when she was a young woman, she was kicked in the face by a horse frightened by a rattlesnake. She still had a large scar on her upper lip to remind her that she was only inches away from death on that day long ago. But on this day, her horse was much more frightened than the horse that threw her off, kicked her and ran away. What could make a horse this terrified? Minnie knew the answer: a mountain lion.
Earlier that morning Minnie and her husband, James (Jim) Bergman, rode up to a hunters’ cabin on Mount Palomar. It was about a four-hour ride from their home in the valley. Their goal was to hunt down the old wounded mountain lion that continued to kill the cattle in the valley. Minnie and Jim lived in the old Bergman family home (“The Old Ranch”) in the Aguanga Valley, near Hemet, California.*
Jim was 59 years old, and Minnie, a year younger. Even in their senior years, they still loved to ride horses and hunt. On this day, however, they were not out for fun. The wounded mountain lion out there was dangerous. The people of the valley were afraid. Many of the men of the valley tried to hunt it down, but the mountain lion always eluded the hunters.
For a split second Minnie reviewed the warning Jim gave her before he went out to hunt.
“What ever you do, don’t leave this cabin. That old wounded mountain lion is out in this forest. He is clever and very dangerous. If all the men in the valley can’t shoot him, don’t you try. But just in case you run into trouble, here is your gun and some ammunition.” Jim reached in the well-worn saddlebag for the box of ammunition. He took a handful of bullets out of the box and laid them on the top of the cold wood-burning stove.
“I’m going out to shoot something for our dinner,” Jim told Minnie. “While I’m out, I’ll also look for signs of that mountain lion. It has killed the valley livestock long enough. We need to stop it before it goes after the people of the valley. If it gets the taste of human blood, no one will be safe.” Jim closed the box, put it back in the saddlebag, then slung the bag over his shoulder. As he left, Jim warned Minnie one more time, “Be sure and stay in the cabin.”
That warning rang through Minnie’s head. She didn’t want to worry Jim, but she had to think through her options. If she stayed in the cabin, the mountain lion might kill her beloved horse. If that happened, she and Jim would be in danger when they tried to get down the mountain on foot. They were a long way from home. On the other hand, if she went out after her horse, she was in great danger. The mountain lion could kill her and her horse. Without another hunter to back her up, she would have only one chance to kill the wounded animal. She would never get a chance to reload for a second shot.
The decision to leave was quickly made. Minnie decided to take her chances. She glanced around the bare room for paper and a pencil to write Jim a note. A bed was in one corner and a wood-burning stove was in the other corner. There wasn’t even room for a table and chair. The only other things in the room were some cooking utensils and pans that hung from nails in the wall next to the wood-burning cook stove.
I’ll have to go without leaving Jim a note, she resolved. She nodded her head and answered her own concer. I’ll be back before Jim returns from hunting. Quickly she made a mental checklist of what she needed.
I won’t take my hat. It will get in my way if I have to face the mountain lion. It’s warm today so I don’t need my coat. The pocket in my culottes is big enough to hold all the ammunition I’ll need. If I find the mountain lion, I’ll get only one chance to shoot him. If I miss I won’t have time to reload.
Was Minnie afraid to shoot a mountain lion? No. She had gone on cougar hunts since she was in her young twenties. Years ago, just after they were married, she used to hunt cougars in Tombstone Territory with Jim. She was a good shot. She even liked to add more excitement to the sport. Minnie waited to shoot until the cougar lunged at her. Jim always had his gun loaded and aimed at the cougar as a back up in case she missed. He never needed to shoot. She had killed many mountain lions. Minnie never missed.
Was Minnie afraid she would get lost in the thick forest of Mount Palomar? No. She hunted in forests all her life. She was the “tom-boy” favorite daughter of a Virginia plantation owner. Her father taught her many things that usually were only taught to the sons of the family. Her father taught her how to hunt and read the forest markings and the skies. Minnie could get home from anywhere.
Was Minnie afraid she couldn’t find her horse? No. Her father had also taught her how to track all kinds of animals. He taught her to read animal footprints. He taught her to look for broken branches and tufts of hair caught in the forest brush. She was a hunter all her life. Minnie could track any animal.
Minnie was not afraid. This was the kind of adventure she loved. Her gray-blue eyes sparkled. She pushed back a fallen lock of brown hair that covered a dark scar over her right eye. A childhood accident had left its mark. She reached for the ammunition with a strong hand that only showed a few signs of aging. Very few people would have guessed she was 58 years old. Her hand wasn’t wrinkled, but a few dark spots and enlarged knuckles hinted as her age. The top knuckle of the right index finger bent to the right. “That isn’t caused by old age,” she would say. “It was caused by all my years of hand quilting.”
When the handful of bullets was in her pocket, she grabbed her gun and loaded it. With her 5 foot 7 inch frame, she was tall and strong for women of her age. She handled the gun with ease as she tucked it under her arm. When she was in her twenties in Tombstone Territory, she won a gold watch in a shooting and horse-riding contest. She had hunted many years since then.
Minnie shut the door and ran across the clearing to the opening in the forest where her horse had gone. It was easy for her to follow his tracks in the dry, powdery clay soil. It wasn’t long before she saw the reign from his bridle. It was still tied to the broken branch. She untied it then followed his track. Minnie noticed a few broken branches at the height of the horse’s chest. As she continued, she picked up the other reign then pieces of the bridle. She knew she would need the bridle to ride her horse back to the cabin. She would have to ride bareback but that would be all right if she had the bridle. It never occurred to her that she would not find her horse.
She moved as quickly yet quietly as possible. She not only looked for her horse, she looked for signs of the mountain lion. She wanted to see the mountain lion before it saw her.
Something made her stop. She strained to look through the forest. The sun shone brightly on a clearing beyond where she stood. Her horse grazed peacefully in the sunlight. She didn’t move. She couldn’t hear any birds or small animals stir in the underbrush. It was too quiet.
Minnie’s scanned the forest around her. Between her and the clearing was a tall tree. A large branch hung over the path her horse had taken. There on the branch was the crouched mountain lion. He had let the horse run under him because he saw a much easier kill just down the path. The old wounded cat couldn’t jump as far as most cougars because of his injury. He waited for Minnie to come closer. All was silent.
Every lesson and skill Minnie knew about how to hunt cougars now automatically guided her actions. The mountain lion was about 30 feet away. Minnie knew a healthy mountain lion could lunge up to 20 feet, but this wounded animal would probably wait until she was closer. She decided to shoot from where she was. Minnie slowly lowered the repaired bridle to the ground. She raised her loaded gun, took careful aim, then shot.
BOOM. The shot echoed through the forest. The huge old cat fell to the ground with a loud thud.
Minnie knew how dangerous it was to get close to a wounded animal that might be only stunned and not dead. She reloaded her gun and shot the lion again in the head. One shot through the heart and one through the head. She knew he was dead now.
Minnie picked up the bridle and walked around the dead cat. She could see the old wound that caused him to be so dangerous. Her grazing horse seemed undaunted by what had just occurred. Minnie put the bit into his mouth and the bridle over his head. The horse towered over her. She led him over to a big rock. The only way she could get on his bare back was to climb on a rock first, then jump on him. Minnie’s horse was calm as he walked around the body of the cougar. The horse sensed that that dead animal was no longer dangerous.
It didn’t take long for Minnie to retrace her steps back through the forest to the cabin. This time Minnie tied up her horse with a rope that hung from her saddle. No sooner had Minnie sat down on the bed, when the door opened.
Jim put his gun down a little harder than usual. He dropped his saddle near the stove. They wouldn’t need the stove today. Jim seldom came home empty handed from a hunt.
“I’m sorry Minnie. I didn’t shoot anything for dinner. I didn’t see a rabbit, a squirrel or even a bird to bring home. I didn’t find any signs of that old cougar either.” Jim sat down next to Minnie on the bed.
There was a little glint in Minnie’s eyes. “Well, If you’d stayed here you might have seen that mountain lion. I shot it just a little while ago.” Minnie didn’t have to wait long for the response she knew would come.
“You what?” Jim’s voice rose only a little but was intense. “I told you not to leave the cabin.”
“I know darling.” Minnie gently put her hand on his shoulder as she told him what happened. “The horse ran off. He was afraid of something. I knew it was that mountain lion.” Her mouth revealed a little smile that hinted at how fun the adventure was for her. “I knew I had to protect my horse. He might have been dead by the time you got home. Don’t be concerned Jim. It was easy. That old wounded lion couldn’t jump as far as usual. This time I didn’t wait for him to lunge. I was careful.”
Jim shook his gray haired head then put his arm around Minnie and smiled. “I should have guessed you would shoot that mountain lion that none of the men of the valley could shoot.” Minnie knew Jim loved her spunky traits and would love to tell his valley friends who killed cougar. Through good times and hard times, life was always an adventure with Minnie.
They got up early the next morning. Stirred by hunger, they were anxious to get down the mountain and home. Even though it was a long ride home, they took the time to ride through the forest to see the dead cougar. Jim shuttered when he saw how big the dead cat was. Minnie knew Jim now realized how close she was to that dangerous wounded animal. He took a deep breath, shook his head then turned his horse around.
Jim led the way down the mountain. Minnie quietly followed him. More often than was her usual custom, she bent down, patted her horse’s neck and whispered affectionately in his ear. The peaceful couple returned to their desert home about mid-day. The hunt was over. Peace returned to the valley.
Jim’s father, Jacob Bergman, bought the “Mountain Ranch” (known to the family as the “Old Ranch”) in 1867. Jacob built the family home in 1880 on this Aguanga ranch and farmland. All of Jacob’s eight children were raised there. The family home was vacant after his children were grown. Some of the children built homes in different places on the “Old Ranch”, and others moved away. After his father’s death, Jim moved to Bisbee, Tombstone Territory where he met and married Minnie Morris. Later they moved to Lowell, Tombstone Territory, then to Santa Anna, California then finally to Brea, California. Because of the Depression, Jim lost all his money and his Brea Garage business. It was then that he and Minnie moved back to the old family home in Aguanga, California.
Copyrighted March 20, 2006,
410 N.E. Birch Street
Issaquah, WA 98027