Back in the late 1800’s, life in the United States was rugged, especially if you didn’t live in the East. The people who lived here had a pioneer spirit, and they were used to making their own way. That didn’t necessarily mean that they were poor, although some lost everything they had. The amazing thing about that is that even if they did lose everything, many of them found a way to start over, and didn’t move back to the East.
It was that pioneer spirit in those early settlers of this nation. They proved they had what it took to make a life in a rugged and sometimes brutal land, that they had the guts to turn this land into the great nation it is today. There are still people out there like that today. People like my cousin, Shirley and her family who live in the mountains of Washington state, and when I say they live there, I mean they live mostly off the land. They hunt and fish, and they grow a garden. That pioneer spirit still lives strong in them.
Our Great Grandpa And Grandma Spencer raised their 6 children in various places, but at this point in their lives, they were living near Rock Falls, Wisconsin, the old O’Dell place, which is another thing I find funny. It seems like once a family lives on a place, it always belongs to them, or at least their name always belongs to the place. So, no matter how many families followed the O’Dell’s, the house would always carry their name. That was a tradition I never could figure out, but it still seems to be the case.
Our great grandparents and great great grandparents built this country with their blood, sweat and tears, and most importantly with pure gut! They had what it takes to make it in a land that could be brutal enough to kill a man, much less a woman, if they weren’t strong enough.
My dad always loved teaching his family about the history of this great country. He and my mom decided early on that they wanted to show us the country we lived in, and they most certainly did. We traveled from one coast to the other, from the north to the south. Dad would stop at every historical marker he could find along the way. We would get tired of stopping at all the markers, but from that we learned about things like the Oregon Trail…a trail that I’m pretty sure I have seen every marker for…but one that I know all about too.
He took us to Gettysburg, and we walked through the battlefield in hushed silence, because you can almost physically feel that this is hallowed ground…that the men who died there…who shed their blood to purchase freedom for all men…changed that place. Once you have been there and walked that place, you can never feel the same about a war that threatened to rip our country apart. And yet we remained, strong and determined.
Dad told us about the old west, and the cost of settling this country. Families that traveled by covered wagon, westward to find a better life for their families, because there was room to grow out in the west. Room to farm and ranch and carve out a living that was unavailable in the east, which was much too crowded. The settlers were people who longed to find out what was over the next mountain top. Adventurers who wanted freedom to make their own rules.
He taught us about the gold rush in the Black Hills, and then showed us how so much history still remains in the Black Hills. It became a place our family loved to go, and to this day Bob and I go over every year. It just has a hold on me…a draw that I can’t totally explain. I am always in awe there. The beauty of the hills, memorials, the 1880 train, and the old west shows in Keystone. I never get tired of being there.
Dad and Mom took us and later our kids to so many places and showed us so many things. It is something we will always be grateful for, and that we can never thank them enough for. They gave us something no teacher or classroom could have taught us…they gave us a little piece of history.