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Wild Women Wednesday: Mary Edith Collins

COWGIRL LIFE

Wild Women Wednesday: Mary Edith Collins

When Mary Edith Collins married William Andrew Moore in Willow Springs, Missouri on October 19, 1913, she had only spent a handful of hours with him.  The two courted via mail for several years before William officially proposed on January 27, 1913.  He was a 22 year old farmer from Texas and she was a 17 year old aspiring teacher.  They planned to make a life for themselves in Blessing, Texas.  Some of William’s family members worked the land in the southeast corner of the state and he determined it to be the best possible location for him and his new bride to begin their new life together.  

William and Edith (she was not usually referred to as Mary) set off on their journey west on October 22, 1913.  It was difficult for Edith to leave behind her friends and family in the small community in the Ozark Mountains.  Born in the south Missouri town in November 1895, Willow Springs was the only place Edith had ever lived.  She expressed her feelings about the move in a poem she wrote in a journal that had been given to her on March 13, 1910.  “I stood at the door step at eve and tide, the wind whispered by with a moan.  The fields will be whitening with snow but I will be gone, to roam ore the wild world alone.  I stood on the door step when school time was ore, and longed for the time to go by.  But now it has gone and I stand here tonight to bid this dear step stone goodbye.  Goodbye to my step stone.  Goodbye to my home.  God bless those I leave with a sigh.  I will cherish each memory when I am far away.  Goodbye dear old step stone, goodbye.  It is hard to be so parted from those that you love when reverses in fortune have come and the strongest of heartstrings are broken in vein.  There will be an absence of loved ones at my new home, but I’ll abide this poor heartsick soul repeating in vein and brush by each thought of them with a deep heaving sigh.  The pain it will cost me no one will ever know, to bid this dear step stone goodbye.  There are many temptations which I may meet and sad mournful sights to see every day.  But the faces at home, oh I never shall greet their forms for they shall be so far away.  But I’ll think of the dear old step stone at the door as often drops a tear from my eye.  I will stand in my dreams as I stand here alone, to bid this dear step stone goodbye.”

Edith’s journal was as source of great comfort to her during the trip with her new husband.  She poured over the entries with great fondness and recited a few of the items to William.  The newlyweds traveled to their first home on a wagon.  As William drove the mule team that pulled the vehicle he eagerly listened to his bride read such entries from her diary as this:  “Halloween night.  Today I have been picking up potatoes and cutting sprouts.  It is just now twenty minutes till 4 o’clock.  I am 14 years old.  Edith.”

Edith was raised on a farm and accustom to hard work.  She felt she was prepared for the challenges of being a farmer’s wife.  She could plow fields and take care of the livestock and even noted the amount she earned for her labors when she was younger in her journal.  “September 19, 1910, Edith Collins worked one day and a half and got .75 cents, worked three quarters of another day and got .80 cents – working cutting meat, working two (sic) plowing, $2.00 one half day.”

Edith and her siblings learned their work ethic from their father.  He was dedicated to making sure his family was well cared for.  In one of the final entries Edith made in her diary before she left home she wrote about one of the jobs her father did to put food on the table.  “This is March the 13, 1913.  It is afful (sic) muddy today.  Papa went to town this morning with a load full of wood he chopped – got $150 for it.”

When the wagon train William and Edith were a part of stopped for the evening Edith would prepare a meal.  She made exceptionally good sourdough biscuits and when it was available, fried okra.  She cooked stew in the one good pot the couple owned.  Early in their trip the pot sprung a leak and due to the lack of funds, it would not be replaced until they reached their final destination.  

William was anxious to introduce his Texas family to his blushing bride.  According to the letters he received from his relatives they were just as excited about meeting Edith.  Prior to reaching Blessing, the pair made several extended stops along the way.  The team that pulled the wagon needed to be rested, the laundry and mending had to be done, and William needed to hunt for their food.  Edith’s pleasant personality helped her to make fast friends wherever the pair stayed overnight.  In Elmore City, Oklahoma, Edith met a fellow traveler named Ethel Harris.  Ethel signed Edith’s journal and added a verse to convey her sentiments.  “Remember me and bear in mind a kind true friend is hard to find.  So when you find one just and true, change not the old one for the new.”  

While William drove the horses and wagon during the day, Elizabeth passed the time making notes in her journal.  One of those notes contained information about a man named Jesse James.  In one entry she listed James’s birthday as December 12, 1896.  In another she noted James had come to meet a relative of hers on March 1913.  Prior to learning that the outlaw Jesse James lived from 1837 to 1882, Edith had contemplated the man to have been the same famous renegade from the state where she was born.  

Edith and William made it to Texas in early 1914.  After a short time working the land with his family, William decided to move to Oklahoma.  From there the couple pressed on to Omaha where they decided to make a living on the Nebraska waterways.  Edith and William traveled up and down the North Platte River working as fishermen.  Four children later the pair was still earning their living fishing, but they decided to continue in that line of business on the White River in Arkansas.  

By 1929, the Moore family was working the St. Francis River in Arkansas.  Times were hard and the great depression loomed in their future.  William and his sons made $12 a month selling mussels and mussel shells.  The shells were used by buyers to make buttons.  Edith was able to acquire her fist pair of glasses from funds earned selling shells.  

To supplement the family’s income through the 1930s, William, Edith, and their children chopped cotton, picked peaches, grapes, and apricots.  When wild game was available they hunted for their meals.  Edith was an expert at skinning and dressing the food provided for her family.  She was an exceptional cook as well.  Some days she made as many as four dozen sourdough biscuits to feed her hungry brood.  Edith’s resourcefulness extended beyond the kitchen too.  She made clothing for her children out of flour sacks and quilts for her beds with scraps of material.  

Although William and Edith grew to love one another greatly they were careful never to display their affections publicly.  They didn’t think it was proper.  They shared a passion for the occasional glass of whiskey, reading, and chewing tobacco.  Edith recorded in her journal a note William wrote about his wife and one of their common interests.  “Tis so sweet to kiss, but oh how better to kiss my sweet – William to the young tobacco-spitter Edith.”  

Years of hard, non-stop work contributed to William’s death by heart attack at the age of 65 in 1957.  Edith passed away in September 1986.  She was 91 years old.  The Moores were married for more than 44 years.  The most repeated entry in Edith’s journal was a verse written by her friend Ella Cox in Willow Springs before she left on her venture with William in 1913.  It seemed to best describe how Edith felt about her self-sacrificing, labor-minded husband.  “A handsome husband is hard to find but when you find one true and gay, hold onto his coattails night and day.”  

 

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Chris Enss is a New York Times Bestselling author who writes about women of the Old West.

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