She watched the blood-stained dress burn, and it brought to mind the memories of the life she had lived until now. By April 1865, her family had lost everything and would eventually lose the only home she had ever known on the banks of the Albemarle Sound. Her wedding in May of that year to Edwin was not the social event that her sisters had experienced in the heady days of high cotton prices and indulgent wealth, but Edwin was the man she would follow no matter where the road led. As his partner and his helpmate, she knew the journey they started on the morning after their wedding would be a long and arduous one for the new life that awaited them in the Oregon Territory.
Leaving Edenton on May 3, 1865, the journal she kept spoke of how beautiful the mornings were along the road to Roanoke, Virginia all the way to the beautiful city of Louisville where they loaded the Conestoga wagon on a steamboat bound for St. Louis, the Gateway to the West. St. Louis brought many new sights, sounds, and smells to her nose, but with only enough money left to join the wagon train to Oregon. If they wanted to have enough money for provisions and to start anew in the Willamette Valley, she knew they could not indulge in any of the frivolities that St. Louis offered. The four long years of war had changed Edwin, and in St. Louis he showed the signs that the war had left him scarred. The last night they were in the city, Edwin got drunk and began to harangue and harass some Union soldiers.
He belligerently said, “You boys in blue only whipped us cause you had more of everything. When we fought y’alls straight up like at Manassas and Bull Run, you boys showed yeller. All you blue boys is cowards.”
The Union soldiers could have easily broken Edwin, but they just walked away as she came up to gently steer husband back to the wagon.
Seeing the confrontation and getting angry at her husband, she said, “We lost the WAR, and no amount of drinking can change that EDWIN! You will come back to the wagon if I have to have those soldiers drag you back!”
Edwin turned around sharply and slapped her to the ground. The soldiers at once turned back at the sound to see the lady on the ground. With her eyes, she pleaded for help, and they rushed to her aid.
“Please don’t hurt him! Help me get him back to our wagon so that he can sleep it off.” She pleaded.
The soldiers had begun to beat Edwin, but her sharp words brought them up short. They carried the unconscious Edwin back to the wagon and placed him in his bedroll underneath it. The youngest soldier in the group offered to stand watch through the rest of the night to prevent Edwin from getting up and going for more whiskey.
“Thank you, young man. I would appreciate that.” She said.
The rest of the night was uneventful, and Edwin awoke with a roaring headache but no memory of the confrontation with his wife or the soldiers. From St. Louis, the wagon train rolled through some of the most beautiful country she had ever seen and that fateful night in the middle of Wyoming, the Indians struck. Edwin had been helping the men picket the horses and set up camp when they attacked. She saw it when it happened. Edwin was hit in the chest with an arrow and fell like a sack of potatoes off the back of the wagon. She grabbed the closest thing at hand which was her favorite dress to try to staunch the flow that was even now filling the space around the arrow. With the dress, she applied pressure to his wound, but it was for naught. By the time the men had driven off the attack and could tend the wounded, Edwin was dead. The only thing left to do was bury her husband and burn the dress. The blood on the dress like the memory of that day could never be cleansed.
She watched the blood-stained dress burn and thought, “Mary Ellen Craft, yer on ye own now, but you’ll make it just fine.”