Question by Frontier Reporter, January 1878:
Pardon me, ma'm, but I couldn't help noticing that you seem to have been on a bit of a shopping spree. Where's the big sale?
Rancher's Wife answers:
Mercy me! Wild horses couldn't have kept me away today. Haven't you heard? Why today's the grand opening of the new Conrad and Rath general store. One of the owners, Frank Conrad, says he carries "the largest stock of merchandise west of Fort Worth." Just one peek inside is to believe it. There's something there for everyone. The place is packed cheek to jowl with customers. Cooks are restocking their chuckwagons with coffee, flour, sugar, and fancy medicines, cowboys are trying on high-heeled boots and $50 Stetson hats, and buffalo hunters are buying imported cigars, gunpowder, and bullets. There's something for everyone.
While I was shopping, I saw neighbors I haven't seen in months. Oh, it was so good to catch up with dear Myrtle and hear about her mother…And to think she rode 18 miles to be here for this occasion. After we finished chatting, I nearly lost my head in the fabric section. I got carried away looking at all those pretty bolts of printed calico and silk and yards of ribbon and tubs of buttons and pins and needles and thread that I plumb forgot to watch my kids. Just look at Little Billy now! He looks like a silly wet dog. His hair is all rumpled and sweaty from rolling around on the wool feed sacks. And Susanna! There's no telling how many peppermint sticks and licorice drops she helped herself to from the jars on the counter. Such a cute little red and sticky mouth, though.
Is this icy wind cutting through your clothes like it's cutting through mine? Why don't we go back inside the store where it's warm? My husband, William, says we don't have to head back to the ranch just yet. He saw how excited we were to be here and decided that, to buy some time, the wagon could use some repair while we were in town. So he took it and the horses over to the livery stable, around the corner. Once we're inside the store, you and I could pull up a chair by the stove and sip coffee and chat while the menfolk look at guns. Josiah wants to show Little Billy a Winchester carbine he has his eye on. He needs a new one because his old one broke. We have to have a new gun. We need it for hunting and protection. The wolves are particularly thick this winter. We have to keep them away from the herd. If we lose our cattle, we'll have nothing.
When we've finished our coffee, I want to show you the shelves of canned peaches and milk and the crates of sperm candlesready-made. Also, I saved just enough money to buy some pickles and soda crackers and a pound or two of dried apples. Do you mind standing with me in line to keep me company? Oh, I think I'll just about burst, waiting for spring. That's when Frank Conrad says he'll have fresh tomatoes to sell. Just think how beautifully those red fruits will dress up my drab greens of dandelion shoots and poke salad. My family gets so tired of eating just plain meat and bread. It'll be like a party to have fresh fruits and vegetables at suppertime.
Oh, I sure wish we didn't live so far up Lambshead Creek. If we lived at The Flat, I could come here every day and shop. But that might not be such a good idea. If I did that, I might spend so much of our savings that I'd land us in the poorhouse!
Credits: Character dialogue by Lisa Waller Rogers; top painting by Charles Shaw; photo of country store interior courtesy of Goschenhoppen Historians; Conrad and Rath handbill, courtesy of Lester Galbraith; period canned goods (top), courtesy of TPWD; (bottom) courtesy of John Cobb Collection, Friends of Fort McKavett; photo of pioneer interpreter Gail Young by Kevin Young, Buffalo Gap Historic Village.