Thursday, March 3, 2011

A letter from a survivor:

Since I last wrote our suffering for lack of food has become worse.  On account of the dry weather the harvest has been very poor, and our food supplies are entirely gone.  Game has left this part of the country, and we are now very much in need of food.
A number of new folks have come in this fall, and those who are not used to hunting in the woods suffer.  Were it not for a few boys who have no families, their wives and children would suffer much more than they do now; in fact, I fear some would starve.  Those of us who have no families of our own live with the families within our village.  We stay here, even if there is no food, to protect the village.
There are a lot of hostiles out there.  We are forced to go out in the morning, as a group, to hunt food:  leaving a group of the men and women at home to guard against the hostiles.  We dare not go out and hunt except in small half-dozen groups, as we are obliged to keep on a lookout, in case the hostiles attack us; you can’t hunt and watch too.
Game is so scarce now, we often hunt all day for a deer or a turkey, and return at night empty handed.  It would make you cry to see the poor little half naked children, who have nothing to eat during the day, watch for the return of the hunters at night.  As soon as they catch sight of us they eagerly run to meet us, and learn if we have been successful in our hunt.  If the hunters return with a deer or turkey, the children are almost wild with delight: while on the other hand, if we are empty handed, they suddenly stop in their tracks, their faces falling, the deep bitter tears well up in their eyes and roll down their cheeks.
To make our situation worse, we often are forced to get the older folks from the different villages together and make a kind of fort to protect them from the merciless hostiles.  These tough times have aged them quickly.  Bill Dross laughed and told me he used to be 30 when he was 40, and now he is 60 when he is 50.  It is surprising to see how bravely the skinny old guys bear up under their sufferings, without a mutter or complain. It is only in their looks they show their feelings.  When we seem the least discouraged, they cheer us with kind words and looks, and strive to appear cheerful and happy.  They do more when we are worn out and tired.  They take our guns and help us with guard duty.
Our prospects for the winter look very gloomy.  If the hostiles attack us, I scarcely know what we will do; but I hope for the best, and trust that we will be provided for in some way.  If it were not for a small group of Mexicans and Indians, who are our friends. Fortunately they did not forget the old ways, and supply us with dressed deerskins, or we would be almost entirely without clothes.  The common dress around here is buckskin.
If you do come out this way, try and scrounge up a hand mill.  A lot of folks don’t have them, and are forced to pound corn with a wooden pestle in a mortar made in a log or stump.  We are planning to get a water mill or horse mill up at some point.
Your affectionate friend,
W.B. Dewees
The letter is based on one written by a Texas Settler somewhere around 1823 and is found in James T. DeShields,  Border Wars of Texas, 1912.  I am using it as the table setter for our next series of posts which will (mostly) involve the meanest group of Texas Indians that are no longer remembered:  The Karankawa.  I believe the relevance to post apocalyptic skirmishing will be obvious.  It is interesting that even 19th century settlers would lose site of basic survival necessiies, such as a hand mill.  They of course had become used to taking it to their grain to their local miller.

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