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Copyright © 2017 by Fred L. Funk

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No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the copyright holder.

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Tattersall Publishing

225 W. Hickory St., Ste. 131

Denton, Texas 76201

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Cover and interior design by Crystal Wood



This book is dedicated to my late friend Harvey, who was more than a friend, he was a brother. We shared the same birth date and month, but eleven years separated us. Just as depicted in the story, I don’t believe a man with more knowledge and ability at problem-solving ever existed. He had the solution for most any mechanical task and he always stood ready to help. Our life philosophies and beliefs paralleled. This one’s for you, Harvey.


Ministry and Moonshine

Moonshiners’ Revenge

Moonshine Memories

Life and Death on Cannon Creek

The Throwaway Son

Justice for Cassie

Ephrim’s Journey

Terror on the Mountain (2018)


Ephrim Rush’s mother must have had a strong premonition about the life her son would lead when she gave him the middle name of “Tribulation.”

In Fred Funk’s novel, Ephrim’s Journey, the tall, strong, beleaguered man is the centerpiece of a fictional four-generation family saga based on research and some personal family stories handed down through the years. In this book the character of Ephrim rings true.

Ephrim’s Journey is Funk’s seventh novel, and another character-driven story that immerses readers into the lives of everyday people who nevertheless made America the strong nation it is today. The contents of an old boot box retrieved from an attic form the framework for a father’s story to his son about his ancestors and the journey that led the family from Owsley County, Kentucky, to Texas and later Oklahoma. The father, Daniel Meeks, begins telling his son Trent about life for the Rush clan when the original Harley Rush feared for his wife’s life as she birthed his unusually large baby son, whom they named Ephrim. That baby didn’t kill Lucinda, and she had several more, but the last child, another huge boy, caused her death and the baby died as well. Harley became a hermit and soon followed his wife to a grave in a clearing in some woods near their log cabin.

Their deaths leave several small Rush family members orphaned, and neighbors take them in. The eldest, Ephrim, eventually returns to the family cabin and works the land. That begins Ephrim’s story and his tribulations, which extend for most of his life as he travels from rural Kentucky to Missouri and then to Texas.

The family saga is also the wider story of early settlers of the region, their hardscrabble lives and the heart and courage they showed in braving the elements, wild Indians and white criminals in their quests for home, land and happiness in the mid-eighteen hundreds. The Civil War harmed them in ways almost forgotten today, as deserters from both the Confederate and Union armies preyed on them, stole their goods, raped their wives, ravaged their land and murdered entire families. Funk traveled these routes, researched their settlers and looked on these lands so that his book would be true to history.

From Ephrim’s marriage at eighteen to thirteen-year-old neighbor Delia comes happiness interspersed with grief as children die and his crops come to harm from drought and grasshoppers. The story shows the importance of neighbors during that time as men and women helped each other overcome enormous odds to wrest a living out of the woods and fields of early settling in the United States. A “two-holer” outhouse built by the men of several families was a huge luxury for the Rushes, who had been relieving themselves in the woods for years. Women helped each other preserve vegetables and men went on hunting trips together for meat to smoke for the winters.

Tearful goodbyes and hard trips across dangerous miles follow, as the modern-day father and son pick through the old photos and mementos and read a rough journal to follow the family through Ephrim’s tribulations. Life as he knows it stops for Ephrim when his wife and children are murdered by criminals and he finally leaves for Texas. But arrival in Sherman, Texas, renews life for Ephrim as he begins again with a new wife and ensuing children on a ranch in Cooke County near the Red River. Readers learn how the Rush family begins to live comfortably and later with a degree of wealth as oil wells sprout on the land they cultivate, named the RRR Ranch. Three generations thrive in Cooke County, Daniel tells his son, until he finally reveals to Trent the story of his own sister, a viper in the family nest, who broke Daniel’s heart.

Welcome to Ephrim’s Journey and the story of one family that could be the tale of many families settling the woods and the prairies state-by-state and bringing civilization to the nation.

Donna Fielder

Investigative Reporter/Author



Chapter 1


The loss of the family ranch broke Daniel Meeks’ heart, but the apparent betrayal by his sister, Millie, cut him to the bone. She had betrayed the stellar legacy of her ancestors numerous times, but no matter how grievous the infraction the forgiving family had overlooked most of her transgressions. Daniel could not pardon her big deception.

Daniel cared deeply for his family and their history and he enjoyed a deep-seated love of the land, especially the ranch along the Red River in Cooke County, Texas. The land had been in the Rush family for four generations, but it had been lost and the Rush name no longer existed. He feared that its history and legacy might be gone as well since his son, Trent, remained as the sole descendent of the clan. Daniel’s brother, Lonnie passed away in his mid-twenties as the result of a tragic automobile accident a few months prior to his impending marriage, and his brother, Larry, although happily married, had no offspring. He had confided to Daniel that his biggest fear would have come to pass if he had fathered a child that turned out like their sister, Millie. He did not take that chance.

And then there was Millie, their only female sibling, currently unmarried, deceitful, devious, and two-faced. Thankfully, she had no children. The unfortunate circumstances left Trent as the only descendant and Daniel felt that his son must be told the family’s story so that he could pass it on to future generations, decedents that would exist only through him.

* * *

“Must be 120 degrees up here in this attic,” Trent complained as he wiped sweat from his forehead.

“Yeah, that or more,” Daniel responded. “I reckon we’d best call it a day before one of us has a heat stroke. Don’t think your mom could get us down out of here if we passed out. We’ll leave the rest of the cleanin’ up, up here ‘til it’s a bit cooler.”

“Sounds good to me,” Trent agreed gratefully.

“Grab that old boot box that we found, you know, the one with all the pictures and stuff in it. Bring it on down with us and we’ll dig through it and see what we can find.”

“You got any idea where it came from?” the son questioned.

“Got it out of the ranch house when grandma moved out and came up here to Sulphur to live with Mom. Don’t really know why, but that was the one thing I grabbed and brought home with me,” the father answered.

“You didn’t even look to see what was in it?”

“Nah, didn’t have time. We were too busy moving her stuff out and figuring out what to do with it. Always intended to look inside it, but just never got to it. Put it up in the attic and forgot about it.”

Trent picked up the old boot box as the two men descended from the attic and headed downstairs to the much sought after air conditioning. He placed the container on the kitchen table and removed the lid while Daniel fixed them a big tall glass of iced tea.

“Boy, that tea really hits the spot,” Daniel remarked as Trent pulled an old photo from the box.

“Who on earth is the wild man in this picture?”

Trent held an old picture of a tall, burly man, who by comparison to the doorway behind him appeared about six feet seven inches tall. He gazed on the image of a crazed creature with black thick bushy hair that jutted straight out from his head, dark penetrating eyes, and a long wooly beard that grew down to his chest. He appeared as a menacing giant with his tall muscular frame and extremely broad shoulders, but in reality “teddy bear” described the gentle soul more accurately.

The man hailed from Owsley County Kentucky where men had the reputation as the tallest and largest in the country. No particular reason for the phenomenon ever surfaced, but obviously genetics played a role and cousins from large stock who married cousins contributed to the marvel. Many men from the county attained unusual height and broad muscular frames.

“That’s my great-grandpa and your great-great-grandpa, Ephrim Tribulation Rush,” Daniel responded. “Dig around in that box. Grandpa Harley told me he had a tin-type of Ephrim and his bride taken on their weddin’ day. I’d bet it’s in there someplace.”

Trent rummaged around in the photographs and letters until he located the second picture, one of a much younger man with the long thick unruly hair cut much shorter and combed into place. The handsome, clean-shaven young man in the earlier picture had a look of gentleness that seemed absent in the later image.

“That little short woman at his side is his first wife.”

”She sure does look young,” Trent noted.

“Folks got married real young back then,” Daniel replied.

“His first wife, is she my great-great-grandmother?”

“Oh, no. Your great-great-grandmother was Vivian, his second wife. Everybody called her Viva. Family lore says that he let his hair and beard grow long and wooly after unspeakable tragedies befell his family.”

“You have definitely piqued my interest. What the heck kind of name is Tribulation?” Trent questioned.

“Some say it was only a nickname because of all the trials and troubles that he endured in his early life. Your great-grandfather, Harley, swore to me it was a real name given to him by his mother, who figured he would face a lot of ‘tribulations’ in his life. His momma must have had some kind of strong premonition when she named him. There was a certain period in his life when the name fit him perfectly and he took on that ferocious look during that time. Life was hard for just about everybody back then, but Ephrim faced troubles that would have done most men in. I’ve no idea what the real truth is about the name, but it really doesn’t matter, it stuck with him. His mother was right though. He faced unimaginable difficulties for many years.”

“Either way the name seems to fit,” Trent espoused.

“My grandpa Harley told me a bunch of stories about Ephrim, and one story about his birth seems to make the most sense about the name. Not only was he a giant of a man, but the story goes that he was a real big baby and the birth was extremely difficult, almost killed his mother, and that’s supposedly why they named him Tribulation. Giving birth still isn’t an easy process, but what with today’s drugs or an epidural, it’s a bunch easier than it was in 1836. A lot of women died giving birth back then.”

“I don’t reckon it is too easy now, but it must have been nearly unbearable back then,” Trent responded.

“Grandma Charity always said if the men had to have the babies there wouldn’t ever be but one,” Daniel related with a chuckle.

“I suppose she really meant what she said, since she and Grandpa Harley only had one.”

“Yeah, but the sad part is since my mom was the only one, the Rush name died when Harley and Charity left this world,” Daniel lamented.

* * *

“OH DEAR LORD! OH JESUS!” Harley Rush heard his young wife’s screams as he paced back and forth in front of the one-room, single pen log cabin where they lived. “OH, MY LORD, TAKE ME NOW, I cain’t do this. This baby is gonna kill me tryin’ to git hisself born.”

“Oh, yes, you can do it and you will,” Pearl Brewster insisted. The neighbor woman had come to help Lucinda with the birth.

“OH, LORD, the hurtin’ is too much. Make it stop. I’m gonna die.”

“You ain’t gonna die. Now breathe deep and push.”

“But I cain’t,” Lucinda shrieked.

“Yes, you can. You ain’t the first woman to have a baby and this ‘un probably won’t be your last. Now push.”

In desperation the panic-stricken husband pounded on the door. “What’s happening? What’s takin’ so long?” He cried as he thought of the agony that his beloved wife endured as she gave him a child.

“Go away, Harley. You cain’t come in jest yet. Jest settle yourself down. Take a deep breath ‘n wait. Ever’thang’s gonna be all right,” Pearl exclaimed.

Sweat poured off the expectant father’s face and time dragged by as he paced back and forth and waited. I know somethin’s bad wrong. Don’t usually take this long to birth a baby. What’ll I do if somethin’ happens to Lucinda? He thought. If she makes it through this ‘un, I ain’t never gonna put her through this ever again. Oh God. What have I done?

“What’s wrong?” He shouted through the closed door. “Everything’s done got too quiet in there. I’ve killed her. I jest know it, I’ve killed her.” he sobbed. A baby’s cry broke the quietness.

“You ain’t killed nobody,” the woman responded as she opened the cabin door and placed an extremely large, squalling baby boy in Harley’s arms. “It’s gonna take her a while to git over it. She had a real hard time of it, what with her bein’ so little and the size of that baby, you can see why. Ain’t never helped birth one that size. Never seen a newborn so big.”

Harley pushed through the cabin door and crossed the room to where his wife lay on the bed. Large beads of sweat accented the unforgettable pained expression on her face that the father observed as he placed the infant next to her. He made a solemn vow while he lovingly stroked her brow. “Never agin, my love. Never agin. Won’t be no more havin’ babies. Couldn’t bear the thought of losing you.”

“Now, Harley. Don’t make no rash promises that no man ’d keep,” Lucinda responded lovingly as she reached up and caressed his face.

* * *

“Of course, they had no method to weigh the infant, but stories that passed down through the generations claim that your great-great-grandfather was at least twelve or thirteen pounds at birth and measured out at twenty-five or twenty-six inches. Could have been exaggerated some and probably was, no way to really know, but apparently he was a real big baby,” Daniel explained. “And he grew up to be a giant.”

“Hold on a minute. Was your grandfather named after Ephrim’s father?” Trent questioned.

“He did get his first name from his ancestor, but he didn’t carry his middle name, Granville,” Daniel replied. “My grandfather was the third Harley in the family.”

“Did Harley keep his promise?”

“Now what do you think? No normal young man’s going to refrain, and in those days there wasn’t much way to prevent pregnancy except refraining. Several more kids that he fathered were born without any problem. That is, up until the last one.”

“What happened with that one?”

* * *

Harley Granville Rush and his wife, Lucinda procreated numerous times over the years and each time the delivery seemed easier than the last. No female offspring ever occurred and all the boy babies made their appearances as normal sized and caused no unusual problems; that is, until the last one. It seemed that history had repeated itself as Harley paced back and forth in front of the log cabin that had been expanded to a two-room double pen structure. Smoke floated from the chimney and filled the still cold January air, but Harley did not feel the chill since Lucinda and her suffering dominated his thoughts.

“OH, LORD! OH, LORD!” He heard his wife scream. “OH, MY LORD! TAKE ME NOW. I cain’t do this. This baby’s gonna kill me tryin’ to git hisself born.”

It seemed to Harley that hours passed as he heard Lucinda’s screams while he nervously walked back and forth. Should’a stopped with the last ‘un, but Lucinda wanted a girl. This ‘un’s jest takin’ too long. What’ll I do if somethin’ happens to her?

The creaking of the cabin door broke the silence that seemed deafening to Harley. The worried husband noted a seriously sad look on her face when Pearl appeared on the porch.

“I’m sorry, Harley,” Pearl, who had been present at all the births consoled as tears rolled down her cheeks. “It was just too much for her this time.”

“NO! NO!” he shrieked. “I can’t go on without her. She were my life.”

“Yes, you can and you will,” Pearl insisted. “You got all them young ‘uns to care for. They be your life now.”

“What about the baby?” Harley asked as tears filled his eyes and flowed down his cheeks.

“I’m sorry. Weren’t meant to be. He were a big ‘un just like Ephrim.”

Harley went straightaway to the small barn out behind the cabin, tore a number of hand-hewed boards off the side of the structure, and fashioned a crude coffin for his beloved Lucinda and the baby. Pearl Brewster and Lillie Abner, another neighbor and close friend, gently bathed and dressed the mother and child in preparation for burial. The grieving husband and father lovingly placed his wife and son into the handmade casket. The two women, along with the Rush children followed Harley, James Brewster, and John Abner as they carried the precious cargo to a clearing in the woods. Snow pelted Harley while he toiled in the cold grey January day as he dug the grave where he laid Lucinda and their baby boy to rest. The area did not have a church or a resident clergyman so John Abner whose teeth chattered from the frigid temperatures quoted a passage of scripture, James Brewster said a prayer, and the women solemnly droned the words of Amazing Grace.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now I’m found

T’was grace that set me free.

“Come on, Harley,” one of the men suggested. “Let’s git back to the cabin before you freeze. Several women have brung in hot food and we’ll make a meal of it before we have to face the weather ‘n git back to our homes.”

“One of us’ll stay the night with you and the women’ll take the other kids with ‘um for the night.”

“Ain’t necessary. Me ‘n the boys’ll be jest fine. Y’all go on ahead,” Harley answered. “I jest want to stay here with Lucinda for a spell.”

After the assemblage left the distraught man alone, he formed a cross from some scraps of wood left over from the construction of the coffin. He scratched the inscription on the planks, Lucinda Rush and Baby Boy Rush. Since he was unable to drive it into the frozen earth, he gathered rocks and propped it up in a pile of stones at the head of the grave. He sat on the ground beside his departed wife’s final resting place and cried as if his heart was broken. After a couple of hours the other men returned to the gravesite where they found Harley laid across the grave covered with snow in inconsolable grief.

* * *

“What a sad story,” Trent exclaimed. “What happened to Ephrim and the other boys?”

“Since Ephrim was the oldest at age fourteen, the care of the other kids became his responsibility,” Daniel replied.

* * *

“Where you goin’, Pa?” Ephrim asked as Harley wrapped up a few articles of clothing in a quilt and gathered up a sparse quantity of food before he headed out the door.

“I’m headed down to Buffalo Creek where me and your ma used to fish. Won’t be back. You gotta take care of them kids now.”

“But, Pa, I cain’t care for the young ‘uns. We need you here.”

“You can, ‘n you will. I cain’t live here no more without your ma.”

After the death of his wife, Harley Rush moved out of the cabin and built a rock shelter of sorts on the banks of Buffalo Creek.

Ephrim Rush’s “tribulations” had begun with the death of his mother and continued with the death of his father at the age of forty-six. He regularly carried food and other supplies to his recluse father, but the man barely spoke to his son. He appeared thinner and weaker with each visit. After several months, Ephrim discovered that his father had joined his mother in the hereafter. The grieving son borrowed a wagon and team of horses from James Brewster, loaded his father into the wagon, carried the decedent to the clearing in the woods, and laid him to rest next to Lucinda and the baby boy.

Harley had taught his eldest son to hunt and fish for food, and the boy had become quite proficient with the skills, but he had no idea how to otherwise care for his younger siblings. The group of boys ranged from the age of twelve down to the youngest at five. The older ones pretty much took care of themselves, but the younger boys required more attention than Ephrim could give.

James Brewster and John Abner settled in Owsley County, Kentucky in the eighteen-thirties and they enjoyed the reputation as honest, compassionate, caring folks. In desperation, Ephrim sought their help and advice. “I jest don’t know what to do,” he confessed. “Me and the older boys can git along purty good, but I jest don’t know how to care for the younger ones.”

“Me ‘n my woman can take in the older boys, but she jest cain’t care for the young ‘uns like she use to.” John Abner offered. “We’ll help you find folks to take ‘um in.”

Ephrim’s two oldest brothers went to live with the Abner’s, other families took in three younger siblings, and the Brewsters gave Ephrim, the eldest sibling a home.

* * *

“What became of all his brothers?” Trent asked. “Don’t remember anybody ever talking about them or their families.”

“Grandpa Harley told me that Ephrim only mentioned his older brothers, and then only briefly. What became of the younger ones after their parents died and they were all farmed out to different families is totally unknown until they migrated to Texas, but no stories or details have been passed down. Seems like that part of our history is gone forever.”

* * *

Ephrim grieved not only the loss of his parents, but the separation from his brothers also caused him indescribable sorrow. He had contact with the older siblings from time to time, but the families who took in the young ones did not live close by and their absence weighed heavy on Ephrim’s soul. It seemed to the teenager that everything he held dear had been taken from him.

He roamed the woods in solitude, passed untold periods of time fishing on Buffalo Creek, and spent many hours alone in the loft of the Brewster’s barn where he slept. When the young man disappeared a few times, James sometimes found him at the deserted cabin where he had been born and had lived for fourteen years. Other times he located the boy in the clearing at the graves of his parents. The Brewster clan treated him well, accepted him as part of their family, and made their home his home, but Ephrim felt he did not belong there. He longed for his mother, father, and his siblings.

James and Pearl Brewster had been quite prolific at procreation as well and their small cabin had become extremely crowded. Eight-year-old Delia, the middle child in the family of thirteen offspring, felt lonely and neglected in the presence of her numerous siblings. With so many children in her care, Pearl could not give the shy girl the attention that she desperately craved.

“Why the sad face?” Ephrim questioned as he spotted Delia, who sat in a rope swing under a tree near the cabin.

“I jest don’t belong,“ she replied. “I don’t fit in. Momma don’t even know I’m around. I feel so alone.”

“At least you got a momma,” Ephrim responded sadly. “I know what you mean ‘bout feelin’ alone. Y’all are real nice to me, but it ain’t the same. I really got nobody.”

“I’ll be your somebody,” Delia suggested. “Then we’ll both have a somebody.”

“What do you mean?” Ephrim questioned.

“You can be my big brother and I can be your little sister.”

“But you’ve already got a bunch ‘a brothers. What do you need with another one?”

“They’s all so wrapped up in their own thangs they don’t know I’m around. The older ones stay real busy helpin’ Pa with the farm chores ‘n the younger ones kinda pair off, ‘n that leaves me all by myself.”

“I spend a lot of my time helpin’ your Pa, too, but okay, Little Sister. You got yourself a big brother.”

The six-year difference in their ages did not matter; the two lonesome kids became close and formed an inseparable bond. Ephrim took Delia to Buffalo Creek and showed her how to fish. Delia, whose mother somehow had eked out time and taught the girl to read, spent many hours reading to her friend from the Bible and another couple of books that the family possessed. A lifetime friendship formed between the two kids who felt dejected and alone. As time went by and their bond evolved, both Delia and Ephrim became much happier youngsters and it seemed that the tribulations had passed. However, more tragedy lay in the young man’s future.

* * *

“Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me,” Trent noted. “A teenage boy and a young girl spending so much time together.”

“It would seem that way,” Daniel replied.

“I mean, in today’s world that would spell nothing but trouble.”

“I agree, but Grandpa Harley told me, that according to all the stories he’d heard, Ephrim always treated his young friend with total respect. That’s always been a Rush trait. That is, with everybody but Millie.”

“Dad, what is it about Aunt Millie? Seems like you bristle every time you hear her name.”

“Not now, Trent. That’s another story for another time.”



Trent gazed at the tintype of the tall, burly Ephrim and the petite young bride at his side. He pondered the image as if in deep thought. “Dad, you said this was his first wife, but you didn’t call her by name. Who was she and where did she come from? That wilderness country surely wasn’t heavily populated. Probably not a lot of young women there.”

“You said a close friendship between a teenage boy and a young girl sounded like a disaster in the making to you and I reckon it could have been if Ephrim had been turned different,” Daniel replied.

“Are you saying the bride was his young friend?”

“Yep. Her name was Delia Brewster.”

“But she was only a kid, what, about seven or eight when Ephrim went to live with the Brewsters?” Trent questioned.

“She was eight and he was only fourteen, but no kind of ‘romantic’ relationship developed for several years.”

* * *

Ephrim mourned the loss of his family, but the loving Brewster clan alleviated his grief somewhat. He helped with the farm chores, but since James understood the depth of Ephrim’s sorrow, the compassionate man left him time to be a kid. He acted more like a young boy than a teenager as he and Delia developed a close friendship. Ephrim avoided the spot on the banks of Buffalo Creek where his father died, but the

young pair spent many hours fishing on other areas of the stream. With so many mouths to feed, Pearl Brewster appreciated their contribution to the table. Over a period of time Delia developed a little-girl crush on her teenage friend, but Ephrim did not notice the look of complete adoration that glowed in her eyes. After all, she was only a kid.

I’m gonna marry ‘im when I grow up, Delia thought as she looked at Ephrim adoringly. That’ll be a eternity from now ‘n he jest thinks I’m a little kid. I reckon I am, but I’ll grow up some day. The young girl fantasized continually about a future with her manly friend, but in reality the full effects and obligations of marriage had not been introduced to her innocent young mind. The drudgery for survival of everyday life in the wilderness of Kentucky in the 1850s, the burden of an inevitable young family, or the thought of difficult farm chores did not enter into the daydream. She thought more in terms of her Prince Charming and a fairytale life shared with Ephrim Rush, but that kind of life did not happen. The couple survived a hard existence in the back woods of Kentucky full of danger and disappointment.

“You think Delia ‘n Ephrim are spendin’ too much time together?” Pearl questioned with concern. “I mean after all he’s a teenage boy ‘n boys that age start to thinkin’ ‘bout growed-up thangs.”

“Don’t think we got nothin’ to worry ‘bout,” James replied. “Seems Ephrim done slid back to bein’ a kid. Probably ‘cause he done lost his ma ‘n pa, ‘n all his brothers is scattered to the winds. He acts more like a ten-year-old. ‘Sides, he’s a good responsible boy with a good moral upbringin’ ‘n he wouldn’t never do nothin’ to hurt Delia.”

“For sure, but some time them teenage thoughts is gonna come poppin’ out.”

“I’ve thought some ‘bout that, ‘n I’m keepin’ a eye on things,” James assured. “I been there. Remember, you knowed me back then.”

“Yeah, ‘n that’s what worries me,” Pearl added with a chuckle. “We wasn’t much older ‘n Ephrim ‘n Delia, ‘n you was six year older ‘n me jest the same as him ‘n Delia. As I remember you was relentless in pursuin’ me.“

“I remember it a bit differnt,” James responded. “Seems to me it were you doin’ the chasing.”

“So, that’s the way you remember it.”

“I’ll know when to put a slowdown on them bein’ together so much. Meantime let’s jest let ‘em be kids. I think Ephrim really needs that, ‘n what with all her brothers, Delia needs a close friend of her own.”

“You’re probably right, but a mother worries,” Pearl responded.

“A father worries about his little girl jest as much ‘n probably more. I got my eye on the situation ‘n I’ll know the time to put the skids to it.”

In the fall of 1850 schooling came to Owsley County, Kentucky for the first time. Extremely low pay and lack of much formal education formed the basis for poor teaching skills. Many teachers loved the students and taught to the best of their ability. Sometimes some of the instructors displayed a mean streak toward the kids, but parents who supported education considered any instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic as a good thing.

Eight one-room log structures scattered throughout the area provided the opportunity for a small degree of education for the youngsters. A large native stone fireplace in each school house provided heat during the winter for the students who sat at crude wooden desks in seats attached to the desks behind them. A single, somewhat larger, and fairly decent desk sat at the front of the room for the teacher’s use. A gourd dipper and a wooden bucket that sat on a table near the back of the room provided water for the students, and an outhouse back behind the building, a luxury not possessed by most folks in the wilderness, supplied the facilities for the relief of nature’s call.

Many folks, especially men, considered schooling unnecessary since boys worked with their fathers in the fields and barnyards while girls assisted their mothers with household chores. They considered the three-month term of formal instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic as a total waste of valuable time, but James and Pearl Brewster felt differently. The introduction of schools in Owsley County pleased the couple and they felt that education created a better and brighter future for their children, especially the younger ones.

“James, since we got ourselves a school over in Booneville, don’t you think we ought to send the kids to git some learnin’?” Pearl asked as she and James lay in bed for much-needed rest at the end of a long exhausting day of labor on the farm and in the house. “Maybe if they could git a little learnin’ they might have it a mite easier ‘n the way we live. Oh, I believe in hard work. It builds good men, but combine that with some schoolin’ ‘n they can go far.”

“I agree learnin’ is important, ‘specially cipherin’, but I jest cain’t spare the older boys the time. I gotta have ‘em helpin’ me on the farm. Without ‘em I cain’t put enough food on the table,” James responded regretfully. He believed in education, but providing food for sixteen mouths, including his own, occurred only with a combined effort by himself and the older boys.

“Young as she be, Delia’s a big help ‘round the house. She can cook near ‘bout as good as me ‘n she’s got clothes warshin’ down real good, but I’d be willin’ to let her take the time for some schoolin’. Oh, it’d be a hardship for sure, but since she already knows how to read, a couple of three-month-terms ’d probably do it for her.”

“She is a smart one, that Delia. Three months ‘n she’d know more ‘n the teacher,” James joked.

“I think maybe after one term she could teach the older boys some, since they ain’t gonna git to go to school.”

“Sounds like a good idee, but you know some folks think that all a girl needs to know is how to cook ‘n clean ‘n have babies,” James noted.

“Don’t really care what folks think. ’Sides, there’ll be plenty ‘a time for all that later on.”

“The younger boys is purty good at cleanin’ stalls in the barn ‘n pullin’ weeds from the garden, ‘n they all about learnt how to milk ol’ Bessie, but if you’re willin’ to give up some of Delia’s help, I’d be willin’ to let the younger boys get some learnin’.”

“Then it’s settled,” Pearl asserted. “But what ‘bout Ephrim?”

“The boy ain’t really got nothin’ ‘cept his friendship with Delia. I thank if he wants to, we ought to let ‘im get some schoolin’. ‘Sides, he’d be there to watch out for the young’uns.”

A couple of the younger boys resisted the idea of attending classes, but excitement grew among the others as opening day at the school in Booneville approached. James and Pearl insisted that those who balked at the idea should give it a try and Delia could hardly wait. The girl had enjoyed her time when Pearl taught her how to read and she looked forward to expanded educational opportunities. Ephrim relished the times spent listening to his young friend read and he hoped that as the school term came to an end he would have learned the gift of literacy and could read something special to her. Delia had taught Ephrim some, but he felt that he needed more.

* * *

“I reckon that’s where our family’s love of education got its start,” Trent observed.

“Probably so. Grandpa Harley only got a ninth-grade education but Grandma Charity did graduate from high school. They both thought it was of upmost importance and they saw to it that Mom got her associate degree at Cooke County Junior College and went on to get a Bachelor’s Degree from The University of Oklahoma.”

“I know you, Uncle Larry, and Uncle Lonnie all got your degrees, but what about Millie? I’ve never heard anybody mention anything about her going to college,” Trent questioned.

“Just another instance where she broke the family mold,” Daniel replied.

“How so?”

“Well, she did enroll at the university, but it only lasted one semester. She didn’t concentrate on her studies. She was more interested in the guys than educational pursuits and she just partied all the time. Failed nearly all her classes so she didn’t go back for a second semester.”

“Bet that upset a bunch of the family,” Trent noted.

“You can bet it did, but not as bad as her attitude. She told everybody that with a body and personality like hers she didn’t need a useless piece of paper saying she had an education. Said she could do good by her own wits and she could get whatever she wanted from the men. That girl was always pulling something that upset everybody.”

* * *

Excitement among the children of Owsley County grew as anticipation of schooling accelerated. Four hundred fifty-three students enrolled countywide for the first three-month term, but as farm and household chores experienced neglect, average attendance dropped to two hundred thirty-one. The commissioners in charge of the system felt that number represented a good start.

James and Pearl appointed Ephrim as the leader of the Brewster school delegation and he thoroughly enjoyed the responsibility. It seemed to the couple that it brought out some heretofore unseen maturity in the boy.

“You kids hurry up and eat your breakfast,” Ephrim instructed. “We don’t want to be late for our first day of school. ‘N don’t forgit your dinner.”

Each of the children carried their noon meal in a small bucket, containers that had contained syrup or honey that James traded for in Booneville. Dinner usually consisted of nothing more than a cold biscuit left over from breakfast with a little homemade jam. Sometimes a small piece of ham from the pigs raised and slaughtered on the farm accompanied the bread. Occasionally Pearl killed an extra chicken when she selected the birds for the evening meal and she put a leg or a wing in each bucket. However, those treats happened rarely since frugality reined as she cared for the large family.

Delia only possessed two sets of clothing, one for every day, and one for Sundays or special occasions. She dressed in her ‘dress up’ dress for the first day of school. Her eight-year-old heart melted when Ephrim complimented her. “You look real purty in your Sunday dress, Delia. Purty as a picture.”

Oh, he’s so handsome and he’s noticed me. Maybe he’s startin’ to think of me as more ‘n a little kid, Delia thought as she basked in the glow of his compliment.

“You’ll be the purtiest little girl at school,” Ephrim quipped.

Little girl. He still don’t think of me as nothin’ but a little girl. The crestfallen Delia did not reveal her true feelings as she replied. “Why, thank you, Ephrim.”

“You’re welcome, Little Sister.”

“’N you’ll be the best lookin’ boy there.” She blushed as she thought of her true feelings toward Ephrim and how stupid her statement must have sounded to her “big brother.”

Occasionally James hooked up the horse to the wagon and gave the kids a ride to school when he traveled to Booneville for supplies or to take care of some business at the log county courthouse, but most times the group walked the five miles. Ephrim’s attempts to keep them together failed as some of the boys ran ahead or wandered into the woods along the path. The leader and protector of the group thoroughly enjoyed the walk to and from school each day since it gave him time, in between herding kids, for recollections from the past and thoughts of the future. Sure miss Ma ‘n Pa ‘n my brothers, but someday I’ll have me a wife ‘n have a lot of kids. Sometimes he wished he was alone for the journey since Delia and the boys interrupted his thoughts with laughter or silly questions.

Ephrim, Delia, and several of the boys put out extra effort and gave added help with the chores at home since they thoroughly enjoyed the first term of school and desperately wanted a continuation of the pursuit. James and Pearl greatly appreciated the kid’s endeavors and their determination and allowed the furtherance of their studies.

The original teacher, Miss Little, maintained the position for two years. The kids enjoyed her pleasant personality as she taught the lessons to the best of her ability with her limited education and experience. Unfortunately the well-liked woman moved on to a better assignment, and in the fall of 1852 the sessions started with Mr. Tyler as the instructor. The man’s age made folks wonder if he had failed in all his life pursuits and he took on the profession as a last resort. The kids hated and feared the mean streak that affected his attitude toward them.

Delia raised her hand, but Mr. Tyler did not recognize her. The girl shifted in her seat and continually extended her hand in the air, but the teacher ignored her. “Mr. Tyler, can I be excused? I need to go to the outhouse,” she pleaded as she arose from her seat.

“Who gave you permission to speak, young lady?” he barked. “Now sit down and be quiet.”

“But, Mr. Tyler, I need….”

“I told you to be quiet, Delia Brewster.”

“But. . . .”

Ephrim, who had sat still and quiet jumped up from his seat as the teacher raised his ruler and whacked Delia’s hand. When Tyler wielded the stick toward the girl for a second strike, the sixteen-year-old grabbed it from the man’s hand, broke it into pieces, and throw it on the floor.

“Mr. Tyler, you ain’t never gonna strike my sister agin ‘n if you do, there’ll be hell to pay.”

Delia remained in her seat, but she looked at Ephrim, her hero, with complete admiration as tears flowed down her face. The other kids stood and clapped in approval. Ephrim turned to her and spoke, “Little Sister, you go on out back ‘n take care of bizness. This big bully ain’t gonna bother you no more.”

“Ephrim Rush, you’d best watch yourself. I’ll be talkin’ to James Brewster ‘bout your bad behavior,” Tyler asserted.

“Talk to whoever you want to, but you ain’t gonna treat Delia or any other kid that way no more.”

“We’ll just see about that,” the teacher declared. “Class dismissed.”

Mr. Tyler filed a complaint against Ephrim with the commissioners, but James Brewster also reported the teacher to the group. A meeting of the commissioners convened and after much discussion, the teacher received his walking orders.

The commissioners suspended school while they searched for a replacement, and after several months they hired Miss Reed, a pretty young woman. Classes resumed, but jealousy consumed Delia as it seemed that the attractive female teacher gave Ephrim too much attention.

“Ephrim, would you sit near the front and help me with the kids?” The teacher requested. “Ephrim, would you go draw a bucket of water from the well so the kids’ll have something to drink?” “Ephrim, would you open the door so we can get some air?” It seemed to Delia that it was constantly “Ephrim could you do this” or “Ephrim would you do that.” It appeared to the girl that Miss Reed did not think anybody else could do anything for her.

The schoolmarm looked about the same age as the boy, and in reality only two or three years separated them. In those days the educational instruction profession did not require a degree as a prerequisite. Many teachers had only a high school education or less. Apparently if a person could read and write, had some knowledge of arithmetic, and had obtained some sort of certification from the state or local commissioners, they could teach.

“You sure are quiet, Little Sister,” Ephrim declared as the group started the journey home. “What’s wrong?”

“Ain’t nothin’ wrong,” Delia replied snippily. “Jest leave me be.”

“Now I know somethin’s the matter. What is it?”

“Ephrim, could you get me some water? Ephrim, would you open the door? Ephrim, sit at the front. Ephrim, Ephrim, Ephrim, that’s all we heard out of that teacher all day long. Well, you can just be her friend and leave me be.”

“Oh, Little Sister, don’t be like that. It’s jest ‘cause I’m the oldest kid in school. She don’t mean nothin’. She’s jest a dumb ol’ teacher.”

“Maybe so, but in case you ain’t noticed I ain’t no little kid no more. I’m eleven, goin’ on twelve, ‘n a lot of girls gits married at that age.”

Seventeen-year-old Ephrim had not noticed, but Delia had indeed blossomed into a pretty preteen, and her declaration jolted the young man into reality. Boys often married at eighteen or nineteen and girls tied the knot at thirteen and fourteen. Those teenage thoughts that Pearl spoke of popped into Ephrim’s mind and suddenly without warning he was smitten with his “Little Sister.”

“Pearl, I reckon it’s time to put the skids to Delia ‘n Ephrim being together so much,” James declared as the couple arose from bed and prepared for another day of labor on the farm and in the house.

“How come?” Pearl questioned.

“You ain’t noticed? They’s plumb gog-eyed ‘round each other. He’s been carryin’ her dinner bucket to school for her ‘n I done seen ‘em holdin’ hands a time ‘er two. Don’t want that stuff leadin’ to somethin’ more.”

“Yeah, I done heard some of the other boys a-giggling ‘bout ‘em too, but I jest thought they was bein’ smart-alecky kids. I reckon it is time to slow ‘em down a mite. You’d best have that father-son talk with Ephrim. Ain’t gonna be easy, but I’d best be talkin’ to Delia ‘bout the birds and bees.”

“I reckon you’re right, but remember they ain’t much younger ‘n we was when we got hitched,” James recollected. “As I remember, you was thirteen, near ‘bout fourteen, ‘n I weren’t quite twenty. Hope Ephrim ain’t havin’ the same ‘thoughts’ about Delia that I were havin’ about you. To me you was the purtiest gal ‘round ‘n I jest didn’t think I could wait to marry you ‘n enjoy what goes with it.”

“That’s ‘xactly what worries me,” Pearl replied. “I remember it well, ‘n what you didn’t know was that I were havin’ them same idees.”

* * *

“Times were different back then,” Daniel noted. “Folks did marry real young, but not too many in our generation thought seriously about the opposite sex at that early age. Oh, we thought about the sex part, and that was usually all it was, just thoughts. We didn’t think much at all about the idea of marriage and all that serious stuff. But your Aunt Millie had a different idea about it all.”

“What do you mean?” Trent questioned.

“The girl started to notice and think about boys in the ‘wrong’ way real early on. Just another way she broke the family mold. Nearly drove Mom and Dad nuts.”

“What happened with Millie?”

“We’ll get to that later,” Daniel replied.

“What happened with Ephrim and Delia?”

* * *

“How old are you now, boy?” James inquired as he and Ephrim took a break from splitting firewood.

“Seventeen, near ‘bout eighteen,” Ephrim replied. “What’d you want to know for?”

“Well, this ain’t easy, but I remember when I were your age. Started to have different kind a thoughts about girls ‘n all. I’ll jest spit it out. You havin’ them different thoughts about Delia? I seen the way you two look at each other, noticed you been carryin’ her dinner bucket, ‘n I seen y’all holdin’ hands a bunch ‘a times. Don’t want my little girl to git hurt.”

“Ain’t like that, Mr. Brewster. I wouldn’t never do nothin’ to hurt that girl. I love her.”

“’That’s what I’m talkin’ about. You think you love her ‘n you’ll be wantin’ what goes with love. I know what I’m a-talkin’ about. I been there.”

“Like I done said, I wouldn’t never do nothin’ to hurt that gal. We want to git hitched ‘n start a life together,” Ephrim declared.

“She’s too young, only eleven,” James retorted.

“’Near ‘bout twelve,” Ephrim replied. “Lot of girls git married at twelve or thirteen.”

“Tell you what, Ephrim Rush. I know you’re a good boy and wouldn’t do nothin’ to hurt her on purpose, but thangs happen. When the gal turns thirteen ‘n if y’all still feel the same, then I’ll give it my blessin’, but don’t you dare do nothin’ you shouldn’t in the meantime. If you do ‘n I find out, you’re liable to find yourself out there in the clearin’ with your ma and pa. Do you understand me, boy?”

“Yes, sir. I understand real good, but you ain’t got to worry. Like I done said, I wouldn’t never do nothin’ to hurt Delia.”

Pearl had a similar talk with Delia, she explained everything that a man expected of a wife. The girl assured her mother that she knew about such things and fully understood. She had learned many things on the farm and she had observed the miracle of birth that took place with the animals.

Difficult as it was, especially for Ephrim, and even though they had strong desires the couple resisted the normal urges over the next year and a half, partly because they had a high sense of morality, but mostly because Ephrim had thoughts that he might wind up out in the clearing with his mother and father. The time dragged by, but at the end of the interval their love had become stronger. Gene and Pearl Brewster gave their blessings.

* * *

“What about Aunt Millie? You’re constantly throwing in bits about her, but you don’t finish it.” Trent questioned. “Tell me about her young attitude about boys.”

“Not now, Trent. It was just another thing that upset the entire family. I’ll tell you all about it later, but first I want you to know the ‘true’ family traits and our history.”



“Thirteen still seems awfully young to me,” Trent declared.

“In today’s world it would be considered a crime, but back then it was the norm,” Daniel replied.

“Way too young if you ask me,” Trent’s mother, Judy, exclaimed. “At thirteen I was just a little girl with no romantic notions. Oh, I liked having a ‘boyfriend’, but they were strictly ‘friends’. Back in the time Delia and Ephrim lived as soon as a girl reached ‘child-bearing’ age she was available for marriage.”

“You didn’t have those romantic thoughts because you didn’t know me yet,” Daniel declared with a chuckle. “Tell the truth now. If you had known me you wouldn’t have been able to resist my masculine charm.”

“You’re kind of sold on yourself, aren’t you? I suppose I did like what I saw the first time I laid eyes on you.”

“Yeah, and this old boy sure liked what he saw when we met.”

“You two are just too weird,” Trent joked. “There wasn’t a preacher in the area to bury Harley and Lucinda when they died, so how did folks get married?”

“They jumped the broom,” Judy replied.

“Jumped the broom?” Trent quizzed.

“In early Southern America, slaves were not allowed to marry so as a declaration of their love and a committed life together, they physically jumped over a broomstick. Many times those unions ended when the slave owner sold either the man, the woman, or both to different plantations. The practice took place in front of witnesses and in slave circles it constituted a marriage. Out of necessity in some backwoods communities of the American wilderness, with the absence of clergymen, some white settlers adopted the practice. Sometimes a couple just set up housekeeping and cohabitated. Many of those felt totally dedicated to the other and many times the relationships lasted a lifetime,” Judy informed.

“Wow that was quite a history lesson. Are you saying Ephrim and Delia just jumped the broom or just started living together?” Trent questioned.

“Not no, but hell no. That was not the ‘Rush’ way,” Daniel replied. “And it sure wasn’t the Brewster way. If Ephrim had even suggested such a thing as living together he would have most likely ended up in the clearing with Harley and Lucinda. James Brewster was real fond of Ephrim and considered him as one of his sons, but Delia was his baby girl, his only daughter. He loved her more than anything and Ephrim understood what could happen if he crossed the line. A more straight laced couple than James and Pearl Brewster did not exist.”

“Rush and Brewster tradition would have kept the couple apart until a traveling preacher showed up,” Judy added.

* * *

Elder Thomas Carroll, an itinerant man of the cloth, came to the area in 1855. In May of that year, he and a group of folks from around Owsley County came together in the tiny village of Endee near Booneville and formed the first organized church in the county. The United Baptist Church of Christ met temporarily in the home of Brother Joe Stephens, since the congregation lacked the finances for the construction of a permanent structure.

Elder Carroll rode the trails in the back country of the county on horseback in his quest to “spread the gospel” and keep the people on the straight and narrow path to salvation. He occasionally showed up in the area where Ephrim and Delia lived, but only rarely. While there on those visits the preacher held services alternately in the homes of James Brewster and John Abner.

“Mr. Brewster, me ‘n Delia done waited like you told us ‘n now we are ready to git hitched,” Ephrim announced. “Since we ain’t seen the preacher in a months of Sundays, I reckon we’ll jest jump the broom.”

“Don’t think so,” James replied. “That ain’t our way ‘n it sure weren’t Harley Rush’s way. I give you my blessin’s, but y’all are gonna have to wait till Elder Carroll makes it out this away.”

“I know it ain’t the Rush or Brewster way,” Ephrim replied boldly. “But we want to be together ‘n we been resistin’ temptation all this time ‘n that ain’t easy.”

“Well, you’d best jest keep your britches buttoned and keep on resistin’, ‘less you’re lookin’ to be laid out in the clearin’ with your ma and pa,” James declared in total seriousness. Ephrim’s uncharacteristic boldness came as a complete surprise to the man.

Ephrim realized that the old double pen log cabin where he had been born had fallen into disrepair and needed a bunch of work. Without the needed repairs it would not be habitable when he and Delia married. Sweat poured off his body as he worked feverishly under the hot Kentucky summer sun while he cut back the underbrush that had grown up all around the place. He replaced the mud chinking that had dried up and fallen from between logs on the exterior of the building. After he completed those task the young man sat on a large rock near the front of his birthplace for a much-needed rest. This old cabin needs a porch and it needs wood floors inside. Don’t want to bring Delia to a place what has dirt floors

Sawmills came to Pendleton County in the northern part of Kentucky in 1793, but none existed in the rest of the state until much later. Ephrim felt some way he must acquire wood for the porch and floors, but he realized that even if he had money or goods for the purchase of such materials their transport from so far away constituted an impossibility. Brewster’s cabin had those amenities and the young man wanted no less for his bride. Got to figger out some way to git the wood ‘n make this a proper place for Delia.

After he had rested up he gathered stones from the fields for replacement of the many rocks that had fallen from the chimney that had crumbled from neglect.

When Ephrim entered the cabin a tear flowed from his eye and rolled down his cheek as he observed the old bed where he had been born and where his mother had later died in childbirth. Harley and Lucinda had shared the crude bed while the children slept on pallets made from old quilts that lay on the floor. Hay that filled a covering made from old scrap material had dried up and the cloth had rotted. The stretched ropes that formed a base for the mattress had frayed and fallen slack. The young man removed the primitive mattress from the bed that stood in one corner of the cabin, took it out in front of the cabin, and set it on fire with the help of a small piece of flint that he struck against the blade of a knife that he carried. It seemed to Ephrim that his tragic past floated away with the smoke that ascended high in the air from the fire and his future with Delia glowed brightly like the flames.

After the young man completed his work for the day he headed down to Buffalo Creek where he stripped off to the buff, jumped into the cold stream, washed off the sweat from the day’s work, and chilled down the hormonal urges that continually plagued him. He had an inkling that James Brewster’s admonitions had been serious. His spot in the clearing with Harley and Lucinda remained empty.

I’ll have to do somethin’ about a bed for me and Delia, Ephrim thought. It’ll be kinda embarrassin’ to ask since me ‘n her girl’ll share the bed, but maybe Mrs. Brewster’ll make a new coverin’ if she’s got some old material ‘n Mr. Brewster’ll probably give me some hay ta fill it if he don’t kill me for mentionin’ where me ‘n Delia’ll be sleepin’ together. Wish I had somethin’ to trade for some of that tickin’ from one of them traders over in Booneville. Maybe someday.

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