I have always loved history, particularly the history of the American West. Maybe it’s because I was part of the generation that grew up on TV westerns, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, the Indians, horses, stagecoaches and cowboys. After a TV show would end sometimes my brother and I, our imaginations sparked, would reenact plots of the story on our stick horses. For sure that love of history was also fueled by experiences like being with my father as a little girl, when he found a perfect arrowhead in the corral behind the barn on our family farm. Whatever its roots this savoring of history has run deep within me all of my life.
The settling of the American West is a saga filled with adventure and profiles in courage and sacrifice. The stories of privation and perseverance by all who were involved in the westward expansion are replete with examples of inspiration and tragedy for both the Indians and the white man.
Passing on this passion for history to my children and grandchildren is a special privilege for me. It has deep spiritual components to it also. “God knew all of our days before there was one of them.” (Psalm 139:16) He has always been present over the timeline of history and as David appealed to Him in Psalm 71:18, “Now when I am old and gray haired, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim thy might to this generation and all the generations to come.”
Recently God provided a very special opportunity for me to plant those seeds of wonder and curiosity in my grandchildren last month during our family reunion at the ranch in northeastern Colorado. A veterinarian friend who’s also a historian and a rancher in western Kansas, recruited three friends to reenact a harrowing ride undertaken in 1867 by a young cavalry officer and a small squad of men. Their mission was to carry orders from Ft. Sedgwick to General Custer, camped on the South Platte River about three miles from the site of our family ranch. In their ride, however, they were intercepted by hostile Indians and perished.
The grandkids were excited to visit the reenactment camp and see their horses and vintage uniforms at the old fort site. Plans changed, however, after the riders’ schedule with a grueling four day ride ahead of them, moved to a very early morning departure from the campsite, and they were following a route we weren’t quite sure of. In the early morning we drove down county roads passed fields that once were teeming with buffalo. We crossed the South Platte River, the water source for Indian encampments, for great wagon trains crossing the plains and the avenue for the great fur trade that preceded the settlement of the West. We maintained cellphone contact with our reenactor friends,but their location still seemed elusive. We were about to give up on finding them when all at once in the distance we spotted them, mounted with heavy blue woolen uniforms looking quite different than the camouflage uniforms worn by Uncle Dan and Uncle Eric. They were reenacting a most terrifying episode in history. One can only imagine the thoughts and prayers of the men they were impersonating, as they sought to escape their pursuers. Probably very similar to the thoughts and prayers that our men and women in the military have today as they face great peril, sometimes unto death. Psalm 90 tells us that “God has been our dwelling place, our shelter for every generation, before the mountains were brought forth, from everlasting to everlasting. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past or a watch in the night.”
The kids had learned a lot of history that day about what had happened on that very spot 150 years ago. On the way home we all quietly pondered in our imaginations what it like for those young soldiers being chased by Indians. What were their last thoughts and prayers? How desolate and far away from home and family they were. Yet we know that they were not alone. The One who is always with us was with them that terrifying night and perhaps in the realm beyond this world we will even be able to have them tell us about how He watched over them in their hour of crisis and led them safely to their eternal home as He promises He will do with us.
I can still hear the famous words, “Can you just imagine?” It is because of you that I have to stop at every historical-marker on our family road trips. Now your grandkids are catching that love for history, but they also see Jesus in you. Your story captures the essence of what makes our country great. The sacrifices of people who believe in a cause coupled with the bravery to carry out their duties should cause all of us to pause and remember. Best of all, remembering the God who gives us hope beyond this world puts it all in perspective. What a great story!