Flickr: Creative Commons–Stuart Rankin: Cowboy at Cattle Drive (Colorado, 1970)
The first large wagon train to Oregon Territory took place in 1843. Jesse Applegate was one of the leaders of the cow column, the great herd of thousands of cattle driven to Oregon with the settlers. The cattle moved slower than the wagons, so those who owned more than a few cattle travelled with the cattle, while those who only owned a few travelled with the faster group.
In this recollection, published in 1877 in the Transactions of the Fourth Annual Re-Union of the Oregon Pioneer Association, Applegate recounts a typical day for the cow column. First in the column, the women and children walk near the wagons and gather flowers. Then, several boys or men herd the very “docile and sagacious” horses who seem to always behave.
Not so with the large herd of horned beasts that bring up the rear; lazy, selfish and unsocial, it has been a task to get them in motion, the strong, always ready to domineer over the weak, halt in the front and forbid the weaker to pass them. They seem to move only in fear of the driver’s whip; though in the morning, full to repletion, they have not been driven an hour before their hunger and thirst seem to indicate a fast of days’ duration. Through all the long day their greed is never sated nor their thirst quenched, nor is there a moment of relaxation of the tedious and vexatious labors of their drivers, although to all others the march furnishes some season of relaxation or enjoyment. For the cow drivers there is none.
Apparently thirty-some years after the trek, Applegate is nostalgic about just about everything else–except for working with the cattle. I’m surprised he doesn’t mention the odor, dust, flies, or noise that would accompany thousands of cattle.
I have no experience with cattle. Are they really that temperamental?
I was in my crib, in my dark room, and I could see my dad, down the hall in the lighted kitchen. Our family’s German shepherd-mix dog slept on the rug next to my crib. And my blue and white stuffed dog was in the crib with me.
This is my first memory.
Except it isn’t.
I did have a blue and white stuffed dog. Our real dog did sleep on the rug next to my crib. However, according to my parents, we never lived in a house that would have allowed me to see from my room, down a hall, and into the kitchen.
Memory is a tricky thing. Sometimes we remember certain things vividly. Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we suppress memories.
What about my first memory? I’m guessing it was the memory of a dream based on things important to me–my dogs and my dad. But it stuck with me.
Perhaps we remember emotions better than facts. In my dream/false memory I felt safe. In other memories, I still feel the fear, anger, shame, happiness, etc. I felt during the event.
Writers of biography, history, and historical fiction depend on primary resources. Eye-witness accounts. Sometimes these are of recent events. Sometimes the accounts are memories of a less-recent event.
Sometimes the person provides accurate information. Sometimes the person’s memory is faulty. Sometimes the person lies. That’s why authors and historians look for multiple primary sources to determine facts.
However, there is no better way to find out how an event made someone feel than to read or listen to that person’s memories.
In your reading, research, and writing, how do you evaluate other people’s memories? What is your first memory?