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The Covered Wagon

A LONG snake-like whip swept over the heads of a line of plodding oxen, and with a peculiar twist of its curling length produced a report similar to the explosion of a revolver. This, like the shot fired at Concord, was a sound heard round the world, heralding the coming of the covered wagon, and making history as certainly as did that memorable April fight.

In the year 1848 a covered wagon caravan passed through the little hamlet of Natchitoches on the Natchitoches river, in the state of Louisiana. On the rear hung a coop of chickens, along the wagon's side were strapped various articles of household furnishing, while beneath in its shade trotted a trio of long-eared, long-bodied hounds, the one indispensable necessity of the pioneer's outfit.

Beside the team walked a pioneer and explorer. Comfortable as the circumstances permitted, his young wife and their children rode upon the wagon beneath its spreading white canvas top. The youngest of the children was but a few months old, for she was born on the little stream they had just quitted, the seventh of their family of sons and daughters, each of whom had claimed a different state in the union for his birthplace.

For this man and his wife were pioneers of the truest type. Westward, always westward, they set their faces, their eyes wooed by the rosy tints of the setting sun. From the bellow of the Atlantic's surf on North Carolina's shore they had set forth as bride and groom to make their way into the far west. By slow stages, tarrying now a few days, now a year, while they planted and harvested a crop, they met and subdued the trials of the frontier, and moved steadily onward toward the then little-known regions of the far southwest.

As they set out upon their journey westward from Natchitoches, they entered upon the last and most difficult stage of their migration, and it was many months later that they finally halted upon the eastern bank of the Neches river and hailed the lone ferryman on the western shore of the stream.

Thus came to this section the covered wagon with its precious human freight to be added to that small company of kindred spirits who had preceded them and found the end of their rainbow on the banks of the Neches river. The new arrivals were Robert Kidd and his wife, eight years out of Salem, North Carolina, with their seven children.

Robert Kidd was born in Amherst county, Virginia, and married Miss Rebecca Hitchcock of Salem, North Carolina. Soon afterward the couple began their long journey into the wilderness, and years later reached their destination here. They became active factors in the settlement along the river, a little below the present site of the city of Beaumont, and here the children grew to manhood and womanhood.

Elizabeth, the youngest, born on the Natchitoches river while the family was enroute here, became the wife of A. E. Caswell, and at this time, 1925, still makes her home in Beaumont. Her children and grandchildren are among the present prominent families of the city of Beaumont, while her father, the late Captain Robert Kidd, wandering farther west in the meantime, finally came back to Jefferson county and spent the latter years of his life here, dying in the year 1889 at the age of 116.

When the Kidd family arrived in 1849 there was little sign and less promise of the busy metropolis now Beaumont. The hamlet of a few scattered log houses along the stream's higher western bank was uninviting enough in both social and business aspects, and many who came hither then continued on their way to other fields. But the few remained and took up the task of wrestling their livelihood from the wilderness about them. A few small tracts of grain for man and beast measured the farming activities, most of the pioneers devoting themselves to trapping and to the gathering of cattle from the prairies about. Cattle grew wild and thrived on the long prairie and marsh grasses and the settlers found profit in killing them for their hides and tallow, the only things which could then be sent to market.

The coast plains at that time teemed with cattle driven south year by year by the blizzards that swept over the inland prairies. Reaching the gulf plain they could go no farther, with the result that year by year the maverick herds grew larger and larger, until the settler found countless numbers of cattle ready for slaughter.

Traffic such as there was, was carried on by small boats which came up the Neches river and along the gulf coast from Galveston, with now and then a larger ship anchored in deep water off Sabine bar loading heavier cargo, lightered thence by barge from up the river.

There was ample market for such products as the settlers were able to gather for the buyers, but the greater part of the exchange of goods was by barter. Cargoes of furniture, cloth, sugar, coffee and hardware were brought in by the ship captains and exchanged for fur, hides, tallow, timbers or such other articles as the settlement had to offer.

Local trade was carried on in the same way. There was little actual money in circulation. The housewife's small change consisted of the furs of the smaller animals, and with them she purchased the few items for household use that resourceful woman required, while the husband bartered bearskins for his gun or a load of hides for a plow.

These were counted the slighter inconveniences incident to pioneer life along the Neches. Perhaps the greatest of all the hardships lay in the unhealthful conditions the settlers found. The undrained areas were sources of illness, and malaria and other diseases of the semi-tropics wrought ceaseless warfare upon them. Physicians there were none, and knowledge of the treatment of disease was nil. Yet despite what would now appear to those who live here amid surroundings from which practically all sources of physical ills sufficient to threaten their extermination, have been routed by science and labor, the hardy, seasoned bodies of the pioneers withstood also that great handicap and survived, many of them to a ripe old age.

Among these is the little heroine of the Covered Wagon-Elizabeth Kidd Caswell. Mrs. Caswell, still active in both mind and body, despite her years and the hardships of her early life, survives to tell the story of the very beginnings of the proud city of Beaumont. She remembers clearly the daily routine of the settlers of that day, and though she has seen every step taken by the community in its development, she confesses that in the presence of the present day achievement, her memories of the earlier period seem only disordered dreams.

And recently the granddaughter of this child of the covered wagon, this survivor of the handful of people who formed the nucleus for the city's present population of 50,000; this woman, who easily within her own memory knew the slow plodding, indolent ox and the covered wagon as the only means of transport – this woman's granddaughter was a passenger in an airplane, and she herself read with no great surprise of the circumnavigation of the globe through the air.

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