Consider the Lilies
No other region of the United States has so shaped the image of our national identity as the Old West. Together, as husband and wife, we have traversed the vast regions of Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, the Dakotas, Utah, Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington.
We have read and reread many history books on the nineteenth-century old West, and between us have read literally hundreds of novels about it. From Daniel Boone to Davey
Crockett; from Kit Carson to Wyatt Earp; from Wild Bill Hickok to Buffalo Bill Cody, our national folklore is replete with rugged men finding their dreams fulfilled in the wide open spaces or craggy mountains of an untamed land.
Though this image is well founded, both of us find it one dimensional and incomplete. Little is said by historians or novelists about the role played by gallant, resourceful women in settling the West.
In this new series, Hannah of Fort Bridger, we will give men their due, but our intent is to show our readers the truth of women’s contributions in forming this nation’s vast land west of the wide Missouri.
As we present this second book in the series, let us follow valiant Hannah Cooper, whose faith in the Lord has been severely tested by the sudden death of her husband, Solomon,
in central Wyoming.
The California-bound wagon train in which Hannah and her four children are traveling as far as Fort Bridger, Wyoming, is still some two hundred miles from the fort. It has been nearly four months since they left their home in Independence, Missouri, to begin this venture westward. On the day they pulled out of Independence, their dreams were yet to be fulfilled—as Solomon had put it—“out there under the distant sky.”
As the wagon train pulls away from Solomon Cooper’s grave, will Hannah’s faith sustain her? Only the Lord knows what dangers and trials lie ahead on the trail. And when they arrive at Fort Bridger, how will she cope with the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in her path?
Will she be able to handle the task of running Cooper’s General Store without her husband? Especially since she’s carrying their fifth child in her womb?
Our heart’s desire in presenting this book and the ones that follow in the series is to encourage our Christian readers to more fully trust the Lord as they walk life’s pathway. And for those readers who have never opened their hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and forgiveness of their sins, our prayer is that they might do so. Chapter One
At high noon, the California-bound wagon train was still camped on Wyoming’s Sweetwater River, just west of where the water roared through a narrow boulder strewn
section known as Devil’s Gate.
Stuart Armstrong reached out to help Hannah Cooper climb onto the wagon seat, but she turned to look over her shoulder one last time at the freshly mounded grave. As usual, the wagon train had stopped at dusk the previous night to make camp. After such an oppressively hot day, the Coopers had decided the whole family would sleep outside
beneath the wagon. The children fell asleep quickly, but Solomon and Hannah lay awake in each other’s arms for quite some time, talking softly.
In the dark hours of the night, Solomon awakened to a sensation of movement against his bare arm and heard a slight rattling sound. It took only seconds to realize that a rattlesnake had slithered next to him, yet he couldn’t see where the head was.
Even the slightest movement would cause the snake to strike. If any of his family stirred in their sleep…Solomon swung his arm toward the snake in the darkness and felt the sting of the rattler’s bite. The snake bit him twice more before he got to his feet and managed to kill it.
Hannah had a few precious minutes with Sol before he was gone, but it was enough time for him to urge her to fulfill their dream and go on to Fort Bridger.
“Ezra’s about ready to go, ma’am.” Stuart took her hand and helped her onto the wagon seat, then climbed up and grasped the reins.
Hannah looked at this kind man, her eyes red and swollen from a night of weeping. “Thank you for offering to drive, Stuart. I should be feeling up to it in a couple of days.”
“It’s my privilege, ma’am.”
He and his wife, Tracie, had traveled to Independence, Missouri, from Toledo, Ohio, to join Ezra Comstock’s wagon train. On the trail, Solomon Cooper witnessed to Stuart and led him to Christ. Tracie, who was now driving the Armstrong wagon by herself, had come to the Lord through conversations with Hannah.
As the Cooper wagon took its position in line, fourteen year-old Christopher Cooper mounted his bay gelding, Buster, and drew up beside the wagon. His dad’s horse, Nipper, trailed behind, tied to the tailgate.
Little five-year-old Patty Ruth Cooper sat between her mother and Stuart, holding tightly to her stuffed bear, Tony, named for Tony Cuzak, who drove one of the Cooper’s four
In the back of the wagon were Hannah’s other two children, twelve-year-old Mary Beth, and eight-year-old B. J. (short for Brett Jonathan), and the family’s black and white rat terrier, Biggie.
As he waited for all the wagons to line up, wagon master Ezra Comstock swung into his saddle at the front of the line and talked to his nephew, Micah, who drove the lead wagon. Hannah thought back to Ezra’s words that morning. Just after the burial, he came to her and said, “I’d really like to see you go on to Fort Bridger, but not too far along the trail we’ll come upon a supply train headin’ back east. If you wish to join it, I’ll make arrangements for you.” Then he left her alone beside the grave.
She knelt and prayed, asking God to show her what to do. She was aware that her children were standing some distance away, watching her. They wanted to go on, but knew the decision belonged to her alone.
The words of Isaiah 26:3 came to mind, and soon her heart flooded with peace as she kept her mind stayed on Jesus. Yes, they would go on to Fort Bridger and make a new life there.
Now, as she waited for the wagon master’s familiar call to head out, she felt that same God-given peace even in the midst of overwhelming grief. Ezra looked back along the line of wagons to make sure they were all in position, then raised up in his stirrups and gestured west, shouting, “Wagons, ho-o-o!”
The Cooper family wagon was ninth in line, with their four supply wagons directly behind and more wagons trailing them. As the wheels began to turn, Hannah twisted on the seat and leaned out. Tears came as she took one last look at her beloved Solomon’s grave. Her grief was so new and deep that she felt as though the breath had been taken from her. Through quivering lips, she whispered, “O dear Lord, I need the grace
and strength right now that only You can give.”
Solomon’s grave seemed so lonely there, under the trees. She knew he was in heaven, but still, with each step of the oxen and each turn of the wagon wheels, Hannah felt herself
moving farther and farther from the one who had been the essence of life to her for so many years. Her aching heart bid him good-bye with the knowledge that one day they would share a glorious reunion in God’s bright heaven.
When the grave passed from view, she sat up straight on the wagon seat and looked toward the western horizon. Twenty days to Fort Bridger, she thought, and many tomorrows. Abruptly, her own words, spoken earlier on the trail, came back
to her: The Lord always knows what’s ahead of us and can prepare us for the trials and heartaches that come our way, even before they happen. He’s already in eternity, which means He’s already in the future. So, He’s already in our tomorrows.
“Thank You, Lord,” she said under her breath. “Thank You for that wonderful truth.”
The wagon rocked and swayed as Hannah lifted her gaze to the magnificent canopy of sky. As she studied the blue horizon, Solomon’s words before they left Independence filled her with hope. “Out there, Hannah, under the distant sky, is our new home and our new life.”
She felt a small hand press firmly on her shoulder and turned to see Mary Beth’s compassionate eyes. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. She smiled through her own tears and reached up to squeeze her young daughter’s hand. Mary Beth drew in a shuddering breath and half-whispered, “I love you, Mama.”
“I love you, too, sweetie.”
B. J., who was holding on to Biggie, turned to look back at his father’s grave and started to sob. Mary Beth wiped at her own tears and swung around to put an arm around her little brother.
Hannah glanced at Chris riding beside her on Buster, wondering how he was holding up. His eyes looked straight ahead, but his lower lip gave him away. She’d seen him hip
around in the saddle as the wagons began to roll and take a last look at his father’s grave. But Chris had wept the least of any of her children. Hannah knew he was trying to show his mother that she could depend on him, for he was now the “man of the family.” Her shattered heart glowed with warmth toward her courageous teenage son.
There were no shadows as the sun’s burning rays scalded the rugged land and the temperature climbed higher and higher. Hannah dabbed at her forehead and turned her gaze to the majestic mountain peaks. She hoped it would be cooler when they reached the base of the mountains and started over South Pass. The Rocky Mountains—where the wind blew free and the eagles ruled the skies. At least that was what Hannah had once
read about this mountain range.
Twenty more days, she thought. If all went as Ezra planned, they would arrive in Fort Bridger on September 17. School, no doubt, would start in early September. She hoped
her children wouldn’t find it too difficult to catch up with their studies.
Patty Ruth looked up at Hannah with a sheen of moisture covering her face. “Mama, I’m thirsty.”
Hannah half-turned to reach for the canteen, but Mary Beth, who rode directly behind her, had already lifted it from a small table and now offered it to her. She thanked her oldest daughter and helped the little redhead take her fill. Patty Ruth smacked her lips and burped slightly. “’Scuse me.”
“Well, I should hope so,” Hannah said, smiling, and capped the canteen.
Stuart chuckled. “Mrs. Cooper, I want to commend you for the way you and Mr. Cooper have brought up your children. They’re so mannerly and polite. I hope that when Tracie
and I have children, they’ll be just like yours.”
Hannah smiled. “That’s a wonderful compliment, Stuart,” she said, pride in her children welling up in her heart. She thought of the new little life she was carrying. A lump rose in
her throat when she realized it was just last night that she’d informed Solomon they were going to have a fifth child. He could hardly contain his excitement.
She touched her midsection and told herself she would wait to tell the children about the baby until just before it started to show. She looked down at Patty Ruth, who watched her, and cupped a hand under her chubby little chin.
Patty Ruth blinked earnestly and said, “Please don’t cry, Mama. Papa’s lookin’ down from heaven, an’ he wouldn’ want you to cry.”
“I’m trying not to, honey. Oh, I love you so much!”
“I love you so much, too, Mama.”
“And so do we,” spoke up B. J. from behind. “Even Biggie loves you.”
“And so does Tony the Bear, Mama,” said Patty Ruth, lifting up the stuffed animal.
Mary Beth didn’t say anything, but she put her hand on her mother’s shoulder and squeezed gently.
“You’re the best mother in all the world, Mama,” Chris said. “The Lord sure blessed us when He made us your children.” Hannah began to cry all over again.
Even Stuart Armstrong could feel some moisture welling up in his eyes, and he turned his head so they couldn’t see. As the wagons continued on the journey and the dust boiled up in clouds, Hannah’s mind went back to her parents. Ben and Esther Singleton had refused to go along with Hannah and Solomon to Fort Bridger. They would not budge from their
home in Independence. They fought the “foolish” idea of Hannah and Solomon taking their grandchildren and moving to the Wild West.
Hannah swallowed hard as she recalled her father’s harsh words: If you loved us, you wouldn’t be so eager to go off and leave us! I’m telling both of you, you’ll be sorry you did this foolish thing. It’ll backfire on you! You’re making the biggest mistake of your lives!
Two hours ago, when Hannah knelt beside Solomon’s grave, she told herself that her father was right. She and Solomon had misunderstood what they thought was God’s
leading and had made a horrible mistake. For a moment she had actually thought that Solomon’s untimely death was the backfire her father had predicted.
But then the Lord spoke to her by His still small voice in her heart, saying, Hannah, if you had stayed in Independence, what about Tracie, Stuart, and Tony?
Suddenly it had come over Hannah that none of those three would be Christians now if the Coopers hadn’t been in the wagon train. They’re going to heaven because we followed God’s leadership and struck out for Fort Bridger!
Yes, she and Solomon had done the right thing! It was all in God’s perfect plan, even Solomon’s homegoing.
Even so, she felt keenly the loneliness. She had leaned so much on Solomon; loved him so much, and now he was gone. Her throat tightened. Thank the Lord she still had her four children…and the new baby was a special gift from God. She would have this part of her darling Sol to carry with her to their new home.
Hannah noticed Chris pull up on Buster’s reins and let the wagon move on, then he fell in beside the first Cooper supply wagon and started talking to Tony Cuzak. Tony’s plan had been to go to California, but when the wagon train had stopped at the Kline ranch, he had fallen in love with young widow Amanda Kline. After driving the Cooper supply wagon to Fort Bridger, Tony planned to go back to court Amanda. Tony. Hannah smiled to herself. Though Tony was young in the Lord, he had shown much spiritual growth since his conversion.
At the graveside this morning, he had approached Hannah and asked if he could read Scripture and say a few words over Solomon’s blanket-wrapped body before it was lowered into the grave. Hannah was pleased to give her permission. Tony’s touching words ran through her mind: Solomon Cooper was a brave man. Not only did he show valor on the battlefield in the War, but he demonstrated unparalleled courage and heroism by taking the venom of the rattler in order to protect his family. He knew he would probably lose his life in the process. He loved his dear wife, Hannah; his dear daughters, Mary Beth and Patty Ruth; and his dear sons, Christopher and Brett Jonathan, more than he loved his own life. God bless the memory of this gallant manin each of our hearts.
As Hannah once again felt tears on her cheeks, Patty Ruth looked up and said, “I’m sorry, Mama. Your heart hurts, doesn’t it?”
Hannah couldn’t speak.
Patty Ruth then laid Tony the Bear in Stuart’s lap. “Would you hold Tony for me, please, Mr. Armstrong?”
“Certainly,” Stuart said with a nod.
Patty Ruth stood up on the seat, wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck, and said, “I miss Papa, too.”
Hannah’s weeping became loud sobs. Mary Beth and B. J. leaned toward their mother and wrapped their arms around her and Patty Ruth, and Chris joined them on Buster. Hannah and her children huddled together, finding quiet strength in their closeness.
In a few minutes, Ezra Comstock rode by and exchanged glances with Stuart Armstrong, then drew up next to Buster, and said, “Hannah, is there anything I can do?”
The sun’s rays glistened the tears streaming down her cheeks. “No…thank you, Ezra. There’s nothing you can do. We’re just having a hard time with Solomon’s death.”
“I understand. When I lost my wife, it took me a long time to get adjusted to it, even though, like your Solomon, she went to heaven.”
“It would have been easier if he had suffered a long illness,” Hannah said, “but to be taken in the prime of his life, when he was strong and healthy—”
“Yes’m,” said Ezra. “My heart goes out to you and these children.”
“Please understand, Ezra, I’m not bitter against the Lord. I know He never makes mistakes. But…but we just miss Sol so much.”
“Yes, ma’am. If there’s anything I can do at any time, you let me know.”
“Thank you, Ezra. I will.”
As the wagon master rode away, Hannah looked at all her children and said, “We’ll be all right. The Lord will help us through this.”
Mary Beth and B. J. wiped their tears and returned to the back of the wagon. Even Biggie’s head hung low. He knew something was dreadfully wrong with his family.
Patty Ruth sat down on the wagon seat and reached for Tony the Bear as she thanked Stuart for holding him. “My pleasure, sweetie,” Stuart said, warming her with a smile. Then to Hannah, “Mrs. Cooper, like Ezra, anything I can do…”
“Thank you,” Hannah said. “You’re already doing exactly what I need right now.”
“Well, if there’s anything else, you just say so.”
“I will. I appreciate your kindness more than I could ever tell you.”
“So do I, sir,” Chris said.
Hannah studied her oldest son. She hoped he would let out his grief soon.