The Last of her Water

Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Today I found myself thinking of my Grandfather and a promise I made to him many years ago.

Lester Schornick was what they called deaf in one hear and hard of hearing in another. When I was child he would hold my face in his hands so that he could keep my face still and read my lips. I adored him. He was my safe place and he smelled of pipe tobacco and work.

When I was eight years old he showed me a picture of a young woman and said, "She was a good mama and I am the last to remember her." He had tears in his eyes and I can remember feeling frightened at the idea that anything could make my Papa unhappy.

I ask him what had happened to her.

He told me that when he was a boy his family was travelling through the Colorado prairie on their way further west to deliver horses to the Army. My great grandfather Frank was what they called a mule skinner and he and his wife Jemima and their four children spent much of their lives on the trail.

It was 1899 and a drought year. They were looking for cotten wood trees because that would mean water.

My grandfather Les was tired and thirsty from eating the trail dust and as the days wore on the lack of water began to wear on the party and their livestock.

Les crawled in the wagon and he buried his head in his mother's lap and wept from the thirst. His mother had been confined to the bed for sometime with consumption but he said she stroked his hair and tried to comfort him and then he said she gave him the last of her water.

That day they came to a creek and Les helped his mother from the wagon and lead her to a shade tree. He then went to help his father water the stock and when he returned with water for his mother she had died in the shade of that tree.

His father buried her there on the prairie and sent Les back with his younger siblings to an uncle's ranch in Oklahoma. My grandfather armed with a 22 rifle drove that covered wagon 600 miles to Konowa, Oklahoma. He was 12 years old.

Years later he would try to find his mother's grave but the place was lost to him. He never forgot his mother's sacrifice or her loving touch.

So I promised him that I would never forget her. My grandfather died years ago, but for some reason I thought of that story today and although it is not relevant to anything but the abiding power of love I thought I would pass it along.

Jemima Sears Schornick died on the prairie at the age of 28. She was a good mama who gave her son the last of her water.


chuck said...

Thanks for that, Terrye, now we can remember her too. I wonder if we will ever live to see another time when 12 year olds are that grown up and responsible?

vnjagvet said...

A beautiful story of a mother's sacrificial love, a son's eternal appreciation and a loving granddaughter's recognition of what is truly important in life. Thank you for passing on this message on this All Saints Day.

This message reaches from the prairie to the sea. May they rest in God's Loving Arms forever.

flenser said...

A moving story, wonderfully told.

I lived in Colorado for a while, and was struck by the fact that the "Old West" is really not all that old. Plenty of people alive today can tell hair-raising stories of their own, never mind the stories they heard from their parents and grandparents.

Maybe thats why Americans are so different in character from Europeans.

ambisinistral said...

Lovely, albeit melancholy, story. I've read a lot of old travel literature and it never ceases to amaze me what people went through back then.

I got me thinking about my maternal Grandparents, sadly my paternal Granparents died when I was too young to remember them.

They both came over as children in steerage at the turn of the last century. My Grandfather was Hungarian and my Grandmother Slovakian. Family lore has it her friends broke down crying when she announced her engagement to him, seems it was a well known fact that Hungarians beat their women.

In truth he was a good natured and gentle soul. He worked as a mechanic in a factory and pulled a good portion of the extended family through the depression. She was a maid for wealthy family that owned an extremely well known brand name.

He ended up dead of a heart attack on a catwalk in that factory, she followed him a few years later.

To this day I don't know a word of either Hungarian or Slovakian. In their minds they were immigrants, but their children and grandchildren were Americans. That was the gift they looked for in their long journey from the Old World to the New.

These days I stop by a neighborhood Chinese restaurant from time to time for takeout. I remember when they struggled with English, I used to order by pointing at the menu, and now I've seen their child grow from a baby to a grade schooler.

And so it goes, this magic land that keeps drawing travellers with a promise of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness". We are truely blessed by those of our ancesters who sought out this place.

Syl said...


Thank you for this. And for being you. The spirit of those who toughed it out in conditions we can only imagine, yet maintained a sharing and loving spirit surely has been passed down.

Hard work with only a family to depend on, under a big sky and surrounded by endless prairie, doesn't leave much time for navel gazing. Get the work done, know what's important, and see the frivolous silliness of the pampered lazy ones for what it is.

I think your grampa would be proud of you.

terrye said...


Thank you for that. I don't know if he woud or not but I do know he asked a great deal less of life than we do today.

The thing he wanted most was for his sons to be good men. Bakc when being good men meant something.

terrye said...


Sometimes I think that Americans feel closer to Aussies not just because of language, but shared experience.

This country was not founded as a penal colony, but our people were independent and self sufficient...out of sheer necessity.

I have many such stories in my family from the old days. I think oral history and the American west are inseperable.

Sometimes it reminds me of the sea in that it is own world.

Knucklehead said...


I'd also like to thank you for this wonderful bringing of history to life. I enjoy Terry C. Johnston's Plainsman series (although I've only read a couple of them) because he does what you have done - brings history to life and attaches it to people.

RogerA said...

Terrye, my lady--you can tell a wonderful story full of all the great things of life and the wondrous nature of our ancestors--thanks for sharing this.

SneakyFeet said...


this is an awesome, but very sad story.

I don't think I could really wish that kind of life on any 12 year old, could you? And yet, with the loss of people like your grandfather and great grandmother, we have lost a lot.

I agree with Syl. Your grandpa would be proud of what you've become.

Duane Carriger said...

Hi Terrye,
I believe Jemima is my 3rd great grandmother. I was born in Oklahoma and now live in Indiana.
Was your grandfather actually William Lester Schornick?
Did he have a sister named Ruth Amanda?
I would like to find out more about this side of the family.
If you would, please e-mail me privately at:
d dot carriger at me dot com (
Kind Regards,