A LETTER FROM LIDA MOCK
Reprinted through the courtesy of Marci Mock
Sarah Eliza "Lida" Mock was born November 26, 1870, in Warsaw, Benton County, Missouri. The daughter of Robert F. and Jennie Jarboe Mock, Lida was one of seven children. In this letter to her brother Morton, Lida describes the family's overland trip to Wyoming, the death of their mother in childbirth, the hardships of early homesteading in northern Sheridan County, Wyoming, and her difficult early marriage and divorce.
July 6, 1953
My Dear Brother Morton and Sister Etta:
To-day I am trying to answer some of your questions, but can not hope to answer all of them it is so long ago.
I will begin with Frank as Postmaster at Bingham Wyoming. In the first place he went to work there for a widow, a Mrs. Frank Smith whose husband had died. She was probably in her thirties. Had a stroke which left her right side paralyzed from the waist up. She held her right hand rigidly up in front of her, could not move it. She had two little girls one about a year older than I, and the other younger. She was married and moved away, I believe about 1883, early in year.
She left Frank in charge of the Post Office somehow. I was twelve [in 1883] until Nov. [26th] of 1883 (26 day). We had a team of ponies and a wagon. One little Indian pony was Buckskin, had a crooked knee the other one was pale buff. I do not remember whether you, I mean that I do not know whether you remember, how one Sunday Father let Fronia drive us to visit Frank at this P. O. and ranch. It was a treat to we children, for Frank had good food and we had not much of anything to eat.
I believe it was about twelve miles from Father’s place and it was on Tongue River. There was a ditch across the road and irrigation water was running through it. This was several miles on the way. These ponies would not walk across water but always jumped. Fronia, driving, all you little ones in the wagon bed in back and I sitting beside Fronia on the high seat (You may remember how high it was) holding our baby Sister, little Darling Maggie, on my skinny lap with my skinny arms.
Fronia was driving fast and when we came to that ditch I was thrown out of the wagon holding tight to Maggie and I handed her up into the wagon to Fronia. The only reason I could do that was that my calico dress caught on one of the sticks at the front end of the wagon bed, for the horses began to run as hard as they could as soon as the[y] jumped the ditch. My little thin dress held until I was whirled and whirled I do not know how many times and when I was on the ground I had [on] only [my] little muslin panties and some strings that had been a new calico dress. Fronia tried hard to stop the horse I am sure, though I could not see, and when she did stop them and get all of you children out, she came back to me. How merciful God was, to save all our lives that day!
Frank drove us home, leading his horse behind the wagon. He was Post Master for a good many years. He lived there until he married our cousin Betty, and after until after they lost their dear little boy, murdered by that woman doctor Simpson in an operation. It was 1894, I believe, that he died. It was after my own Darling Robin died and may have been after Leslie’s death.
Morton, I had so much sorrow and grief over my babies and my body was so sick it is a wonder that I remember anything. Slavery, poverty and sorrow was my portion. But it made me able to endure the horrors that came after. The loss of my babies is like just yesterday or this morning, I loved them so and still do.
We left Kansas April 10, 1881. We reached Piney Wyoming on August 20 and it was Frank’s birth day. He was twenty years old. He walked every step of that long journey, carrying father’s old muzzle loading rifle, and kept us from starving with the game he killed. Prairie chickens, grouse, sage hens, antelope, deer and one elk. Jennie and I walked almost all the way, because we had such a heavily loaded wagon, with poor old Bill a stallion, blind in one eye, and “Bet” and “Molly,” two small mules hitched tandem. Sometimes “Flower.” Supposed to be Jennie’s cow, Father gave her before she could talk plain, and she named her “Fower.” Sometimes Flower was hitched to the wagon, too, although she like my (our own precious Mother) was expecting her little one.
So the night our Dear one left seven orphan children, this cow bore her calf (I think the seventh), as Maggie was Mother’s seventh child. This cow’s calf was born completely blind. There was no cow near us to give milk for our lovely little baby but this one, so God was good to six young orphans. Fronia going on thirteen, I going on eleven, Jennie nine, you five, and little Pete not yet three. A baby one hour old, whom none of us knew how to care for, not even our father.
Frank away in Montana working, sent food all he could. We went and picked up potatoes and onions in the snow after I was able to walk which I did not do for six weeks after our mother died. How often I wished that I had died with her, and almost did.
Father dug the potatoes for a man named Hughes, and he paid father [with] the tiny potatoes too small to peel, abut he charged our father five cts per pound and onions ten, I think. I’m sure about the potatoes. I remember that well. We almost starved that winter. Days we had nothing but boiled venison. No bread, no butter. The cow gave milk for her calf until father sold it for perhaps two dollars, she gave only enough for the baby and you little ones and father’s coffee when he had any.
All supplies were brought from Miles City by Ox trains. Flour 14 dollars a barrel, sugar the same by the hundred, a forbidden luxury, only when Frank could send a little. I said then, when I get big I’m going to eat all the sugar I want. He sent the little bit of coffee, too and once I remember he sent some bacon. He was good to help us and he worked for Father until at 28 he married. After that he came and helped, much. Poor Frank, what an unhappy life he had! Losing both his beautiful little baby boys and dying in a hospital on an operating table.
He saved my Winnie and Fay from death the day the black mare ran away from them, by cutting loose the harness from a horse, cutting the wire fence and running the horse and catching that treacherous pony. My babies, then Winnie was five Fay was not two. I had given my brave little girl the lines saying “Hold tight, while I fasten the gate,” that wire gate, but she was too little, the horse standing so quietly when I turned, dashed away on a run with the babies in a frail buckboard. Winnie said “I told Fay to hold on tight and not to cry.” So I had Van Ness sell that wicked horse.
Or was it you, who saved my babies that day? It is so hard to remember those long years, some things I can never forget.
The last school I attended in Kansas, ten years old, the first in Wyoming 13 years old. A lack of school for three years. The last school I attended I was sixteen the winter of Father married our little Mother and I was so angry and sore hearted that he would put another in my own sweet mother’s place. But I got over that very soon, for she is such a dear kind little mother and had so much grief to bear. She loved our father so dearly, so faithfully I know that God gave her our dear mother’s spirit, or she could not have done as she did.
She wrote me of your sending her the paper you sent me of your anniversary, and she was so glad to get it. Fay and her husband were very much interested in it too, I let Fay take it to read. Will let the other children see it as I can.
Our first teacher was a frail little girl about 20 named Lillie Carroll. Pete lived on the Carroll place [later] when Rena died. Lillie had a sister younger and a brother older. The parents were quite old and from the South. Lillie married a man named James. I can not remember his first name, and ten months later they had twin boys, large babies. He was much older than his wife, but sadly he soon died from cutting his lip on a tin can, leaving the sad little widow to go with her identical twins about one year old, back to live with her parents. That is all I remember of Her. You may remember we had only three months of school, in the winter-time, for father needed his girls to work in the fields. In winter there was no work.
No as nearly as I can remember, Milton Carter (a son-in-law of Mr. Diltz) was next. Maybe, someone else remembers if you do not. Next was Mrs. Greene who live don this side of Tongue River from the village of Dayton. Or was she before Mr. Carter. The last one I knew of was W. P. Abbott. You would remember him. That was my last school. I was sixteen and had obtained my first certificate to teach. Then I went to Mr. Diltz and Mr. Wagner who had both promised me our school, when I got a certificate. They denied this. They were together when they promised, and they were together when they denied it. They were friends. Father was the other member, but one could not give me the privilege of the school. I had worked so hard! No recesses, no noon time, only to eat the few frugal bites of food.
Father could not spare me light, but it was always winter time when I studied, for Summer and Spring we worked from before dawn until after night. So I knelt or lay before the fire and studied by firelight. I wanted to pay father’s debts, and how happy I was to place in this hands the receipted bills from the farm implement store, one Friday evening when I went home. This I did with all my wages except enough to buy a few cotton dresses.
I had no money for a wedding dress. Bought some grey flannel and little mother made the dress I wore. The money I spent on myself was to buy my beloved pony “Brownie” for forty dollars, and Van Ness sold him when I was away, as he sold my precious dog “Shep.”
In the years of our marriage he never gave me a dollar, he never bought me shoes or a dress. He collected my wages and kept them. When he sold the place where I had slaved to have things, he gave me three hundred dollars, then begged one hundred back from me, and my babies were small. I washed on a washboard for a living. I was a stranger but I never begged even from father. When I could bear no more, and hoped it would stop Van Ness from following me, I wrote father, asking him if he would loan me twenty-five dollars to get a divorce. And fully expected to pay it back, but he said not to send it back. The divorce cost just 25 dollars.
When Sheridan had its first school I do not know. I know there was no Sheridan when in August 1881, we passed where Sheridan was built. There was no railroad nearer than Miles City Montana. I remember how father walked the floor night after night, when his tobacco supply ran out [and] how we went and found the bark the Indians called “Kinnekenick” and dried it for him to smoke, but he wanted to chew. When the ox-train came to Henry Baker’s store (at Dayton, afterward called Dayton), all the men for many miles around were waiting for tobacco.
You were such a dear boy. You never used it. You never went to pool halls or saloons. You never Swore. Our dear little brother Pete was just the opposite. You were strong like our angel mother. He was weak but he is not lost.
The Store Keeper’s name was not John, but Henry Baker. After awhile there was a hotel kept by an old woman called Mrs. Shippe. I could tell you many things about her, but she is long gone to her reward, for good or for ill. God is the judge.
I know that when I was a few months past my sixteenth birthday I went to Sheridan to get my certificate to teach and before my seventeenth birthday I began to teach my first school on Wolf Creek and boarded with the family of a sheepman named Frank Kilbourne, who was cruel and mocking to his pretty, kind, hardworking wife Minnie. He sold out his business and moved to Seattle. Had a large laundry there employing many people.
I lived in Seattle then, and went to ask for work at his laundry. It was too particular, the ironing of Navy white suits and I quit. Shortly after, I read how he made a scandal by leaving his faithful wife, who had helped make his fortune, and going away with his young secretary, just so she would have to set him free to marry. Their little girls born on Wolfe Creek were grown. I would have been glad to see her, but had to work hard for my little ones. Had no time, but read of the divorce and marriage of her husband afterward.
Your dear letter is misplaced but when I find it I will do the best I can to answer your questions I may have missed, but I want to tell you, that the squaw did not want to steal our baby sister, but wanted to trade father ponies. She tried to bargain, and at the last wanted to give five ponies for our little baby sister. We all loved her [so] much we would have given our lives for her I know. Father traded our dear Molly to them for some Indian mare ponies, two of them I think, Molly was our friend when we camped on that long terrible journey. No one, or thing, could come near our Camp for Molly would sound a loud alarm.
No one could catch Molly, but Frank and Me. Little girl, as I was, I could catch our wild Molly and ride her bareback. She must have known I loved her. Molly was the color of an antelope and swift as one. She was strong and a good worker. Father and all the family could not catch her unless they surrounded her, or drove her into an enclosure. How I have seen her, right at the gap then whirl swiftly away.
The day after Molly was traded to the Indians the old squaw brought her back and said the mares’ babies cried for their mothers. So father took Molly and gave them their mares I was glad. Little white “Bet” died before I married I can see her carcass lying on the ground, but I do not know what became of Molly.
Father gave Flower to me when she was 24 years old. Instead of keeping her and feeding her Van Ness put her to pasture at Mr. Ross’ pasture. When he brought her home, her calf was due and she was starved. A few days after her calf was born she died. She was too weak to stand and he put her in a sling. I was feeding her good nourishing food but he [had] neglected her too long and I had no right to say what should be done. I was a chattel and a slave. I went to feed her that last morning and there her body hung, limp, in the sling. Father gave us a pig one year but it was kept near enough for me to care for and it made nice meat when it was big enough to eat.
Now I must stop for I have exceeded the limit of eyes and hands. May be some of this is superfluous.
Please write me as often as you can for only little Mother and you write to me.
Last Updated April 2005
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