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Into the Eye of the Setting Sun

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: 24 Dec 2016 [unknown]
Location: Oregonmap
Surnames/tags: Matheny Wagon Trails and Trains
Profile manager: Roger Shipman private message [send private message]
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Charlotte Matheny Kirkwood was a girl when she crossed the plains with her pioneering family, almost the first to do so. And she was almost the last of the 1,000 (or so; estimates vary) people that came with her.

A keen eye, a clear memory, a sharp wit, and an adult perspective of a child's experiences make this memoir of the early days of the West a fascinating, historically accurate picture of life at the edge of the civilized world.

This memoir includes three indexes, People, Places, and Subjects. Its historicity has been verified. First published loose-leaf for the family, it is now available from the Hewitt-Matheny-Cooper Family Association.

Charlotte also gives detailed biographical information of many family members, as well as others that were on the emigration of 1843 and those soon after.

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Memories: 2
Enter a personal reminiscence or story.
It was getting well into the summer and the sun seemed a great red disk in the smoky sky. No one who has not experienced it can realize the tedious monotony of those long hot days in the lumbering, swaying old wagons: with the dust and the sun and the barely moving oxen, with the creaking wagons keeping time to the puff, puff of the oxen's feet in the dust . . . mile after mile . . . day after day . . . week after week . . .

The talk became half-hearted. It was disconnected, or had ceased altogether. It was easier to sleep, so the women and children slept a great deal, and the drivers would nod and nod till the slowing up of the oxen called them to themselves again. Even the oxen seemed spiritless and drowsy—they had to be continually urged to keep them moving at all. I used to sit beside the driver and let my feet hang over the front of the wagon box. Hour after hour I have watched the slow forefeet of the oxen as they lifted them out of the pockets of heavy dust. The suction caused little whirls that drifted and settled about their hind feet, as each in turn found almost the same spot where the forefeet had been but a moment before. It makes me drowsy even now when I think about it. Mile after mile I have watched them, till I fancied that I saw red where Dave and Jerry stepped. I tried to show it to Mother, for I thought their feet were bleeding and I was worried. Mother said, "No, you have just looked too long at the red sun." I tried to accept that explanation and to keep from looking at their feet, but there was nothing else to look at except the wagon just ahead and the perfectly round rim of the horizon. The grass was dying and looked burned and yellow in the glare.

posted 28 Aug 2017 by Roger Shipman   [thank Roger]
"While we were at Westport, our boys and men were put through a regular army drill. This was with the thought in mind that we were to travel through Indian country. Military discipline was established, and when the long line of wagons finally pulled into the Trail of the Setting Sun, it was in regular army formation. But in a few weeks, it was found impracticable and abandoned.

Then came the first crushing disappointment of my life. We started very early in the morning. Father had said that we were to travel straight into the eye of the setting sun, but something seemed to have gone wrong—the sun was directly behind us, and our big covered wagon and the four oxen that pulled cast long shadows before us. Later on in the day though everything seemed all right, and I watched the sun and thought of little else—I watched the bright, shiny path that it made in the new grass and was quite satisfied. We were traveling straight into the eye of it.

But as the day wore on, I saw the sun settle lower and lower in the western sky and knew something undoubtedly was wrong—the sun was surely slipping away from me. It finally sank entirely out of sight, and the same stupid darkness was upon us. I thought perhaps tomorrow would be different, but it was the same . . . and the next day . . . and the next. I must have accepted it or have forgotten it, for I do not remember asking about what had happened or of understanding it.

For many years I would watch the sun low in the western sky and wish that I might follow it—follow the day and leave night and wasted time behind. But not anymore. Now I often find myself nodding in my chair and losing many moments of the beautiful California sunshine. I am drawing very near to the eye of the setting sun. Presently, it will be goodnight, and rest."

posted 28 Aug 2017 by Roger Shipman   [thank Roger]
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