Maddie stands at the end of the long narrow street stretched. Along either side, tumble down shanties stand shoulder to shoulder, ravaged soldiers at attention in this dreary coal town, other buildings perch precariously along the wide hills of the valley this mine camp is built into. Thick dust coats all, homes, clothing hung wearily on clotheslines, yards, and the grimy, barefoot children scattered along the street. Children, some sit listlessly on battered front stoops, others play stickball, run in the street, their voices echo under the dark ceiling of dirt and clouds that cover her town.
Maddie is born to this town, daughter, fourth child to George, a Virginia coal miner and Louisa, of little import to anyone, but bearer of children; 4 boys, 2 girls. Perhaps, Louisa has some bit of merit after all, but the weariness and aching of her body and mind, create for her a thick cloud of her own, one that is only thickened by her daily infusions of laudamen.
Maddie’s life is work, laundry, cooking, caring for the younger sister, and running noses, scabs, lice, dirt. Dreariness is its own reward in her life. No rewards other than patched clothing, shoes with paper stuffed into the holes, socks in the winter, sores, and lungs that are starting to cough up black soot.
So it follows natural, that as a child of 14 she agrees to marry Tom Ligget, and go away with him west to farm a homestead in the wide clean space of her future.
She leaves with him, her few items packed onto his wagon, takes along with her, her youngest sister, with hopes for a life better than the one they are leaving. She leaves behind her older brothers, already on their way to fulfilling their fathers destiny, and her mother, who barely rouses to say well by. Her mother shows no emotion, but her hand takes Maddie’s, and slips into it a small golden locket, the locket with the picture of her finely clothed English grandmother. A woman Maddie has never met, who still lives somewhere in England, mourning the fate of her own daughter, Maddie’s mother, disappeared into the wildness of America.
No shed tears, no promises to write.
They travel solo, the three of them, and, goat, and 2 hens in a cage.
The wagon is sturdy, a hoop frame over the top to hold up a canvas covering, giving them a place to sleep in the rain, and rest from the heat of the day. The wheels are sturdy, maneuvering through the rutted roads they travel, with persevering strength.
She revels in this new rough and tumble life, the dirt she encounters is different, road dirt: dirt that still sticks under her nails and in the creases of her skin, but seems somehow cleaner than that soot they have left behind.
Her sister enjoys the trip as well, moves from her listless state in mining camp, to a more active, vibrant one, eyes begin to sparkle, mouth occasionally smiles. They stop at rivers, creeks, and for the first time enjoy the life altering aspect of immersing their entire bodies in abundant, clean water, going under the cool surface with some trepidation, and then all three sputter back up, laughing at the pure joy of cleanliness.
They learn to know one another Tom and Maddie, in a way that would not have been possible under the miasma of the mining town. Under the bright skies, while the youngest sleeps safe in the wagon, they lay, cradled to one another, talking of the home they would build, the crops, the children, the future holding nothing but bounty in the west. They travel this way for one month, learn to laugh, and to hope.
They occasionally join with other wagons during the trip, but most often travel on their own. It was while on their own, they meet up with four dangerous cowboys, who begin to ride along beside them causing some great consternation in Maddie, for the men look at her and her sister with a shabby regard. She keeps her sister and herself inside the wagon, away from their eyes and jeers. Tom keeps driving, his jaw set, having no way to truly protect them. While on the edge of a desert slope, they strike; hollering, chasing the wagon. Tom drives off at top speed, the men begin to use fire power, shouting and yelling with disregard of the oxen, chasing behind and along the wagon. The noise and commotion cause the oxen to veer off the edge, and tumble with the wagon down the side of the arroyo,