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Molly Hoopes cooked on Santa Fe Trail

Molly Hoops and her husband Evan came to Marion Centre in 1864. To get a start, they hired out to Moore’s Ranch, a station northwest of present-day Durham on the Santa Fe Trail, for $40 a month. Hoops served as a cook. She wrote the following account of her memories of that time in a 1880s article in the Marion Record.

We had not been there long until we had the name of setting the best table from the Missouri River to Santa Fe. The stage came in twice a week with from six to 10 passengers. Government grain teams went through twice a week. They were hauling grain for the stage mules and horses. Often we had other customers. Sometimes the owners of trains and wagon bosses would have meals with us.

Families traveling in the wagon trains camped out, cooking their own meals on campfires or small stoves that they set up for long stops, when baking and washing was done. A campground at Cottonwood Crossing was provided but when trains arrived, the Ranch was a busy place of trading and talking.

About the last of November of 1864, we had 21 soldiers for three days. They were returning from California and, until they passed the Fuller farm on Doyle Creek the day before they got to our Ranch, they had not seen a woman for three years.

When the soldiers stopped and asked for supper, Mr. Moore came in and said, “Molly, can you get their supper?”

I told him that I could. He warned me that they looked rough, but that they would be ‘gentlemanly.’

In an hour, it was ready. I had cookies already baked and plenty of good sauce and some bread and butter. I always kept the coffee ground and in a tight tin can. I also had cold beef to slice. I had mince meat ready to use. I made some pies quickly. While they were baking, I made hot biscuits for the whole lot and sent Evan to the storehouse to cut buffalo steaks. Mrs. Moore set the table.

In they came with their belts full of bowie knives, scabbards, and a double-brace of revolvers. Their spurs were jingling. They were longhaired, long whiskered, but kindly looking — every one of them.

They looked at Mrs. Moore and me as though we were beings from another sphere. It was not a bold look, but as though we were next best to seeing their own women kin.

One poor fellow commenced on mince pie and finished on mince pie. He ate nothing else. When they were through, they went into the office and each laid down a dollar and declared they never had had a meal equal to that. Having known the hunger of a homesteader when fare is meager, I knew their appreciation.

That night we saw our first Kansas blizzard. The soldiers had to stay three days.

While we were at the ranch, Mr. Moore cleared $3,000. He often dealt with Indian traders, buying furs of different kinds and buffalo robes, which he shipped east.

Mr. Moore bought one load of flour that proved to be very old and wormy. Nearly all flour received in the West at that time was wormy, but this was worse. The first sack I opened was dreadful to behold. There were great worms an inch and a half long and down to tiny little ones. In horror, I called Mr. Moore and he said not to mind: pick out what I could see and let the rest go. “I can’t,” I said. “You go to Council Grove and get a sieve.”

Until he could go and return, I hunted up an old pan and had Evan punch holes in the bottom with a nail. This kept out the largest worms as I shook the flour through. The holes clogged badly and sifting enough flour to make bread for eight of us and all the other customers at our table was a tiring chore. I never rested from one meal to the next. We got the sieve in a few days.

All the dried fruits we got in those days were full of worms.

Sometime in December a splendid mule train stopped at the station. That was the best outfit that crossed the plains that winter. Everything was new from the mules, horses, wagons, down to tin cups. All the equipment and the men were glistening. The new train was loaded with a quartz mill made in Pennsylvania that the train owner was delivering to Arizona. The owner had stopped at Council Grove to receive treatment for a bad case of neuralgia in his face. He came on the next day on horseback.

Mr. Moore came to me saying, “Molly, there is a sick man in the store. Do you think you can do anything for him?”

I assured him I could. I pulled the lounge up to the fire and put more fuel in the stove. I put some hops on to scald in vinegar. The poor fellow came in directly groaning with pain and cold. He said he scarcely slept for a week. I have him a good dose of quinine, then stirred cornmeal in the hops and vinegar until thick enough to spread. I put it in a flannel bag and applied it to his face. I covered him with a blanket and a buffalo robe and he was soon asleep. In half an hour I renewed the cornmeal poultice. He slept until late the next morning. When his train was ready to move on, he came in to say goodbye and to thank me for treating him. He wished us all good luck and laid a $10 bill on the stand for me.

After he was gone and I realized that the $10 was mine, I cut up some lively capers — I assure you. I began to think what I could do with it. Should I save it to buy a bedstead, or a table or a set of chairs, or just what? I finally made up my mind to buy a heifer.

Last modified April 25, 2012

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