J.N.S. [Jesse N. Smith], "Buried by the Wayside,"Juvenile Instructor, 17 Jan. 1874, 14.
The summer of 1864 was unusually sickly upon the plains, the season being very dry and hot. Our route after leaving the little town of Wyoming, on the bank of the Missouri river, was across a rolling prairie country, with occasional streams of water; then nearly dry, until we reached the Platte river.
While crossing this part of the country we were often under the necessity of using the water from holes and pools in the beds of the creeks. The season was well advanced, and not before the latter part of August did the slow ox train with passengers, and freight reach the bottom bordering upon the Platte. Here the water was much better, but the seeds of disease were already planted in some of the passengers, who were attached with diarrhea of the most malignant type. It was the last train of the season, and was said to be more heavily laden in proportion to the strength of the teams, than any of the others that preceded it. To add to the embarrassment, there came the rumor of Indian troubles ahead, and we met settlers almost daily who were leaving their homes upon the frontiers. Some of these claimed to be wounded in skirmishes with the Indians, and many declared they would not stop until they had placed the Missouri river between them and the dreaded enemy. We were just entering upon a district of burned and abandoned ranches, and were told of a large train of government supplies, not far ahead, that had been captured and burned and some of the teamster killed by the Indians. In our camp very little was said about any danger, but a close observer would have frequently noticed an anxious expression upon the features of the captain and the same with other leading men. And truly the company was poorly prepared to make successful resistance. The passengers were mostly women and children, and all were without arms of defense. Some of the teamsters had no other weapons than the customary belt revolver.
One sultry noon, as soon as the halt was made the word went around that a young sister had died during the morning drive, and would be buried immediately. The preparations for the solemnity were of the simplest character. While the men dug the grave a short distance away upon a low bench or plateaus, the women wrapped the form of the deceased in many folds of blankets. There was no bier, and the body was somewhat rudely, though tenderly borne to the place of sepulcher by friendly hands. And what had been her history, we eagerly enquired. The short story of her life was soon told. She had been for years a member of the church in England, and for a considerable time betrothed to a young missionary who could not well be spared to emigrate. They had agreed that they would not get married until he should be released, and then they would make the journey together. They were married on board the ship, but a few short weeks had passed, and now her dream of married life and earthly happiness was over. The young husband was too ill to follow the burial party without assistance. His grief was very touching.
Green boughs and young willows and a profusion of wild flowers formed the only substitute for a coffin. As we looked down into the grave, it seemed hard to leave her there alone, amid that sea of waving grass, in that unmarked spot—but our reflections were abruptly interrupted by the captain's horse voice calling to the guard to drive in the cattle.