Voices of Spencer Creek Valley
I first learned of this tantalizing matter from the granddaughter of an early Fox Hollow resident. Jonathan Toll came to the valley in 1853 and purchased a homestead from Keeler Farrington near the head of the valley - land which had originally been settled by John Ellison. Jonathan's son, Nick Toll, homesteaded on the adjoining acreage and several relatives secured homes on down the valley. Some of their descendants, including granddaughter Bertha Toll, still enjoy the rural atmosphere and quiet life in that sheltered valley between firclad hills.
Sometime before Jonathan Toll's arrival the word "faith" had been carved in almost foot high letters on a large basalt boulder at the roadside. No one knew at that time, nor has discovered since, who did the carving. Neither do local residents know the import of the recorded message. Was it the name of a loved one carved as a memorial? Was it a religious injunction? Was it put there to inspire and encourage those hard-pressed by life? Was it the fruit of idle entertainment on a quiet afternoon?
Over the years students passing by on their way to the Fox Hollow school took note of the carving, and often scratched their names on the rock. "They always wore off," Bertha told me one sunny afternoon several years ago as we examined the letters.
My thoughts often turn to the mystery. I have pondered its source and meaning.
One morning recently I awoke with a hypothetical solution in mind begging for a hearing.
I believe the word must be the name of a loved one, but that it has carried another
message as well.
The muscular brown fingers of Jed's left hand gripped the chisel tensely as his eye measured the expanse of rock before him. With the skill born of long practice he set the chisel against the basalt surface, squinted to protect his eyes from flying chips and hit it a telling blow. then another and another. A very satisfactory groove began to develop under the force of his heavy hammer.
Faith! First and "F." His pain and sorrow welled up afresh as the letter took shape in the rock before him.
His beloved Faith, his sweetheart, his young wife, gone from him forever. Buried on the Oregon Trail, her grave run over by hundreds of wagons to hide it from marauding red men who would dig it up to steal her clothing or hungry prairie wolves who'd chew up the very body. No way to mark the grave so he could ever go back to it.
As he chiseled away he reviewed again the precious memory of their last hour together.
"You must go on," she had whispered, her voice so weak he could hardly catch the words. "Make our dream come true." He leaned closer. "Build that home in Oregon. You will marry again. Your children will grow up in the Oregon Territory, fulfilling our hopes and promises to each other. God loves you and I love you and our love will be with you always." Her voice trailed away to nothing as she closed her eyes there in the shade of the wagon. Holding her limp hand in both of his, Jed had pleaded with her not to leave him, but she was too weak to respond. Those were her dying words.
"Why did we ever leave Missouri?" he moaned. Faith hadn't told him before they left that she was carrying his child because she was sure they'd be in Oregon before her time came and all would be well. Their dream was too precious, too important to be put off she explained later on, when her condition became evident. But she hadn't allowed for the cholera which carried off so many immigrants on the trail. His sturdy, buoyant Faith, fearless and capable, had tended many victims through their last hours and seemed immune to infection. Then, in less than two days, she was gone from him and with her the child she carried.
The "F" was finished. An "A" was taking shape. Jed blessed his father who had insisted that he learn to dress stone and had put him to work inscribing gravestones for their customers. This boulder by the side of the trail would be a permanent memorial. Being able to see Faith's name whenever he passed would comfort him and would help to rectify the humiliation he felt at having to leave her behind in an unmarked grave.
Next an "I." He made notable progress as the afternoon wore away. No one passed the lonely spot as he worked. Later on the overcast sky darkened and a steady drizzle set it. Soon water dripped from his nose and splashed from the rock face with every blow of the hammer. The countryside seemed to weep with him in his bereavement. But behind the tears Jed felt a fierce determination to carry out their dream, his and Faith's.
Just down the trail in this lush green valley he'd made a start. A snug log cabin stood ready to protect him from winter storms. He had broken ground for the first field on his homestead. Faith's monument here would witness his progress in the years to come.
*** *** ***
"In the words of the poet 'Dust thou art, to dust returnest was not spoken of the soul'." The warm rich voice of Reverend Jedediah Westwick flowed over the assembled mourners. Mrs. Hummer was burying her husband on the bleak hilltop at the head of the valley. A man in his prime, Matt Hummer had died in a freak accident when his wagon overturned, dashing him from a load of hay to crack his head on a roadside boulder.
The brief graveside ceremony ended. The widow turned aside with bowed head and drooping shoulders as the pall bearers began to shovel dirt onto the rough cedar casket in the grave. Dazedly she moved toward the buggy which had brought her to the graveyard. The waiting horse shook his head, rattling the harness, to dislodge a pesky horsefly as she approached. Jed moved to her side and grasped her elbow firmly as he supported her across the rough ground.
"Easy, Ma'am. Just step up here and I'll drive you home. You feel like your life is shattered, I know. I lost a young wife once, and I can understand something of how it is."
After a pause she said to him, "I want to thank you, Reverend, for your words of comfort. Matt would have thanked you too. He often spoke to me about his faith. This rock here by the road, it has the word 'faith' carved on it. We always watched for it when we came up the hill. No one seems to know how it got there, but it has been a blessing to many a one comin' along this way."
"And you, sir. You're a comfort to the folks in this valley, you bein' so carin' and helpful to us all. You and your lovely family. We thank God for you too."
Jed shook his graying head slightly. "The Lord's been good to me," he
said. "He gave me faith in this land, and good neighbors. He knows our troubles.
His love never leaves us. That's been my comfort. May it be yours too." They
rode on down the valley in silence.
This crisp fall morning he is on his way to the grist mill. Jamie. his grandson and constant companion, shares the wagon seat with him as they drive up the road.
"Look at that rock, Grandpa. Looks like there's a word on it. Do you see?' =Five-year-old Jamie pulled at his grandfather's arm as he pointed toward the large boulder standing by the roadside. Jed stopped the horses. Man and boy sat in the wagon looking where Jamie pointed.
"I know, sonny. I put it there years ago."
"You did? What does it say, Grandpa"
"Faith. Your mother's name. She was named for another Faith who died a long time ago. You've heard me tell about the Oregon Trail. How we came West. Faith was my wife when we left Missouri. She died of cholera on the trail. I carved that name on the rock in her memory. I have never told anyone else that I did it, so now you know something no one else in this valley knows.
"You see, where she died I couldn't mark her grave and I felt sad about that. So when I found my home in Oregon, here was this nice rock by the trail, and it seemed a good place for her name, a marker to remember her by. We loved each other very much and this reminder has helped me try to be more strong and helpful all my life."
"Gee, Grandpa, I didn't know that." Clucking to his team, Jed slapped
their rumps with the lines and the wagon rattled on up the hill with its load of
grain while Jamie gazed wonderingly from the rock to his grandfather and back again.