A LARK FOR SUSAN
Inspired by Down the Santa Fe Trail and Into Mexico:
The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin,
1846-1847, Stella M. Drumm. ed.,
University of Nebraska Press, August 1982
Some say she had it easy on the Trail,
traveling to Santa Fe in private carriage splendor,
husband and maid devoted to her comfort.
Compared to her sisters on the Oregon Trail
and the Mormons sharing husband,
hardship and handcart,
Some would be right.
We who have borne children
A lark for Susan,
the intense interest of the young and untried,
the hopes and joys of new marriage
and all the time, she knew, she knew.
She wrote her way West,
scratch scratching in her journal,
words self-conscious, aware of
the eyes likely to read, her eyes
clear and sharp, focusing now on the
large events, now on tiny things,
wildflowers, river pebbles,
yes, even larks.
In the custom of the day,
she wrote of feeling ill,
frequent visits by Dr. Masere,
just one hint about women's complaints
until at Bent's Fort, in a
red mist of agony and pain,
she delivered up her firstborn,
far too early, far too dead.
Almost a week in bed,
weakened by white man's wisdom,
she marveled at the Indian woman below.
Popped out a healthy baby with
minimum fuss, a half hour later
carried a bundle to the Arkansas,
broke a hole in the ice and washed
herself and hardy infant.
Susan's journey continued,
she choked in the dust behind hundreds of animals,
flew off a cliff, got drenched by the rain,
left one land for another and
scratch scratched in her journal.
Some say she had it easy, yet
she only lived a few more years and
I wonder if all the time
she knew, she knew.
First published in Wagon Tracks, The Santa Fe Trail Association Quarterly, February 1998
c2001 Patricia Wellingham-Jones