[This is chapter 2 of the book. Hope that you enjoy it.]
We moved to Wyoming in August of 1913. It was time to establish our residence on the homestead. We were allowed six months from the time of filing to move in.
We decided that Earle should go ahead to make arrangements for a place to live while we built our house. A young bachelor named Maudy Buckmaster from Moravia, who lived on the next claim to the west of us, had built a small shack. He offered us the use of it until we could get our own house built.
Another young bachelor in Moravia named Jim Dawson had filed on a claim, built a small shack, and bought a horse, but had then gone back to Iowa to teach. He’d left the horse behind and said we might as well use it until he came back again. We felt this gave us a little bit to go on, so Earle went out to Wyoming by train in August. A short time later I wrote Earle that I would arrive on a certain day.
Accordingly, I went by train to Cheyenne. I had to stay overnight to get the train north up to Diamond, where Earle would meet me.4 It was a thrill to stay in the old Inter-Ocean Hotel in Cheyenne. I had never stayed alone in a hotel before. I was up early the next morning and was soon dressed in my best: a blue serge suit with an anklelength tight skirt and tight jacket, a peekaboo blouse, a large hat, my best black silk stockings, and black shoes. The hotel served a bountiful breakfast of bacon and eggs, hotcakes, and hot biscuits, with plenty of coffee, all for 35 cents. I did justice to my breakfast in spite of being so excited. Then I finished packing my suitcase and walked over to the railroad station an hour early. It was a lovely cool morning in that altitude; the air was crisp, dry, and sparkling.
The train was made up of cattle cars, coal cars, and one passenger coach. That was plenty, since there were only two passengers besides me. The Colorado and Southern Railroad winds north between low foothills, through the valley along Chugwater Creek. As we rattled along, stopping at every tiny station, my spirits began to sink. I could see nothing on either side of the train but box elder and cottonwood trees along the creek, and beyond, the bare brown hills. No vast herds of cattle or horses were in sight, and I could not figure out what they would graze on if there were any.
The conductor came for my ticket and stopped to chat. “Hmmm . . . Going to Diamond, little girl? Going to visit one of the ranches, or are you a schoolteacher?” he inquired kindly.
“No,” I said quickly. “I’m going to live out here. My husband filed on a homestead last spring, and we have to establish residence now. He came out a week ago. He’ll be at the station in Diamond to meet me.”
The conductor looked thoughtful. “I’ve heard that a good many people have taken homesteads out beyond Diamond, towards Chugwater. Well, I’ll tell you, missus: This train goes back to Cheyenne at four o’clock this afternoon, so if you don’t like Diamond, you don’t have to stay.”
I couldn’t figure what he meant by that, but it worried me. Finally, Diamond was called and I got off the train, fully expecting to see Earle waiting on the platform. No one was there. Diamond consisted of a small wooden freight station. I stepped inside into the tiny waiting room. There was a bench built along one wall. One corner was partitioned off and marked post office. That was all.
A nice-looking woman came from the adjoining room. “I’m Mrs. Pete Lingwall,” she said. “My husband is section foreman. We live here. I run the post office for Mr. Rainsford, the postmaster. Did you expect someone to meet you?”
“I’m Laura Smith, and I wrote my husband, Earle, that I would be here today. It is nearly a week since I wrote, and I expected he would be here. I can’t imagine what’s the matter!” Without a word, she went over to the post office corner and handed me my letter to Earle. “He hasn’t been here since your letter came,” she said. “Maybe he will ride over today.”
My heart sank clear to my toes. This was about ten o’clock in the morning. What would I do if Earle didn’t come? I took off my hat and jacket and sat down on the hard bench along the wall.
“Maybe he’ll come today,” Mrs. Lingwall repeated. “Or maybe someone else will come in and we can send word to your husband. Do you know where he’s staying?”
I shook my head miserably. “I have no idea where he might be. He told me to write to Diamond because it’s closer to our homestead than Chugwater.”
“Very few people except the ranchers come here for mail,” Mrs. Lingwall explained. “But if your husband is expecting a letter from you, I’m sure he will be here today or tomorrow.”
There are sections of the state of Wyoming where, it is said, you can look farther and see less than any other place in the world. There was nothing in sight except the little station and one big, unpainted, rambling ranch house in the distance.
“Who lives there?” I asked hopefully.
“That is the Foss ranch house. Ned Foss is a bachelor and lives there alone,” she replied.8 So there was no possible chance of me staying there overnight. A little thought strayed into my mind that I might have to go back to Cheyenne.
The morning wore on. I sat on the hard bench for a while. Mrs. Lingwall went back to her work in their living quarters. I looked out of each window in turn. There was nothing in sight except the rocky foothills and the box elders along the creek. Magpies darted about in the trees, harshly calling to each other. I couldn’t see a trace of a man driving a wagon or a buggy. One cowboy loped past going to the Foss ranch house. Eleven o’clock came and Mrs. Lingwall came out.
“Would you like to have dinner with us, Mrs. Smith?” she asked cordially.
“Oh, yes, I would. I had such an early breakfast that I’m starved. Is there anything I could do to help you?”
“No, I don’t go to any trouble. The mister will be here pretty soon. You just rest,” she said kindly.
Rest? I couldn’t rest, wondering where I would sleep that night! “I think I’ll go down there by the creek under those trees. It looks nice and cool.”
“I don’t believe I would,” Mrs. Lingwall cautioned. “The rattlesnakes are bad now in this heat. There are lots of them this year, I think; more than usual. I wouldn’t go down there by the creek.”
I opened both my mouth and eyes. She chuckled. “Yes, the rattlers are bad in the hot summer. You have to watch all the time. I don’t go outdoors very often. One of the men on the section was bitten last week. He’s still very sick in the Cheyenne hospital.”
I sat down again on the hard bench.
At noon Mr. Lingwall came in and we had a delicious dinner of pork chops, mashed potatoes, and canned vegetables, topped off with dried-peach pie. Mrs. Lingwall had gone to a good deal of work, and I felt that 35 cents was a very reasonable charge for the meal.
Mr. Lingwall was troubled at my predicament. “I think you will have to sleep on the floor here tonight, or on that bench,” he said. “We have only one bedroom. But I think sure your man will come today.”
I helped with the dishes and then went back to the windows to watch. Nobody in sight. I had one magazine in my suitcase. I reread all the stories and then perused all the advertisements. The bench grew harder. I took another long look from each of the windows. Two o’clock, two-thirty, three o’clock, three-thirty. I thought my watch must have stopped. It was nearly time for the train to stop on its return trip to Cheyenne. Angrily, I made up my mind that I would go back on it.
Mrs. Lingwall came hurrying to the door. “There’s a stranger on a horse coming,” she announced. “Maybe it’s your man.”