AVOCA - With the Village of Avoca about to celebrate its 150th birthday, perhaps some folks will ask themselves whether they would have been among the people who, all those years ago, moved into the wilderness to start a new life? “Would I have been brave enough to do that?” There is probably no right answer.
I remember a high school discussion about what it takes to be brave. On the wall of the classroom was that famous picture of George Washington standing in the bow of a boat, in the winter, crossing the Delaware River, leading his troops into battle. Obviously, George and his men were brave.
But the teacher, C. L. Hanson, raised a question. If we could lift George off the front of that boat and place him in the front seat of a car going 60 miles per hour, traveling on a two-lane road, with cars coming at him at a like speed, would George be brave and hardly think about the 120 mph. of iron barely missing each other by just a few feet – or would he be terrified about colliding? We will never know the answer to that question.
I like to watch the Public Television program, “Finding Your Roots”, that tracks the heritage of well-known persons. Among the hopes of the person being interviewed often is – were my family ancestors “brave”?
My great-grandmother, Sarah Black, is said to have lived in Avoca as a child. She later married and lived in a log cabin in eastern Nebraska near the Missouri River. Her husband went to town one day to get supplies. But when he returned home he announced, “Sarah, start packing, we are joining a wagon train going to Oregon.”
They did join the wagon train and made it to Oregon where they farmed and had a family of three daughters. But their dream didn’t come true and they gave up after several years of drought and few, if any, crops.
They were able take a portion of a trip back to Nebraska via a new railroad, but had to finish it in a covered wagon. My grandmother told us she walked behind that wagon the entire length of Nebraska. One of the sisters suffered a broken leg along way. The two sisters complained when that girl got to ride while they had to walk.
During the trip west, Sarah kept a daily record for a time, often with information about finding food for themselves and their team. It mentions buying bear meat from a group of Indians they met along the trail. For some reason she didn’t keep writing for the entire journey.
Among her writings she mentioned the wagon train members sometimes danced. When a daughter wondered, “But Mom, where did you dance?” - the answer was, “We danced on the prairie, where-else?”
Stories about the early days of this country make me think those folks must have been very brave. But perhaps Mr. Hanson’s high school days question was right – if those folks could be transferred to face the problems of today – perhaps they would be terrified.
Maybe we are right when we sing about being in “the land of the free and the brave!”Postscript - My grandmother, who walked the length of Nebraska behind a wagon, lived long enough to watch television and witness men walking on the moon. Now that’s a trip!