Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

A Sweetness to the Soul

Jane Kirkpatrick

  Praise for

  A Sweetness to the Soul

  “Jane Kirkpatrick’s particular gift is for capturing the authentic feel and flavor of frontier life; A Sweetness to the Soul is absolutely true to the people and the land as they once were. This is a novel that calls up a period early in the history of Oregon marked not only by hardship, sudden death, spiritual fortitude, and physical endurance, but also by community, one person reaching out to help another so that they might all survive.”

  —MOLLY GLOSS, winner of the Whiting Writers Award and author of The Hearts of Horses

  “This book portrays a love that conquers all obstacles and offers testimony to the miracle of God’s healing power.”

  —Bookstore Journal

  “In A Sweetness to the Soul, Kirkpatrick offers a testimony to God’s ability to fulfill our dreams, in spite of our human propensity to question the why and how of situations. Through the eyes of Jane Sherar, readers come to recognize that blessings are hidden in the midst of everyday life and often only understood within the context of the passing of time.”

  —Cascades East magazine

  “With profound skill, Jane Kirkpatrick weaves a tale of place and time. While entertaining, she teaches me history; while making me laugh, she unfolds significant soul lessons. The only good thing about coming to the end of Kirkpatrick’s superbly crafted book is knowing she is writing another.”

  —MARY ANNE RADMACHER, artist and author of Lean Forward into Your Life and Live Boldly

  “Her research gives the book depth; her empathy gives it a soul.”

  —The Sunday Oregonian


  A Land of Sheltered Promise


  A Sweetness to the Soul

  (winner of the Wrangler Award

  for Outstanding Western Novel of 1995)

  Love to Water My Soul

  A Gathering of Finches

  Mystic Sweet Communion


  A Clearing in the Wild

  A Tendering in the Storm

  A Mending at the Edge


  All Together in One Place

  No Eye Can See

  What Once We Loved


  A Name of Her Own

  Every Fixed Star

  Hold Tight the Thread



  Aurora (on sale spring 2009)



  12265 Oracle Boulevard, Suite 200

  Colorado Springs, Colorado 80921

  A division of Random House Inc.

  The characters and events in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons or events is coincidental.

  Copyright © 1996, 2008 by Jane Kirkpatrick

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  Published in the United States by WaterBrook Multnomah, an imprint of The Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House Inc., New York.

  MULTNOMAH and its mountain colophon are registered trademarks of Random House Inc.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Kirkpatrick, Jane, 1946–

  A sweetness to the soul : a novel / Jane Kirkpatrick.

  p. cm.

  eISBN: 978-0-307-56915-8

  1. Frontier and pioneer life—Oregon—Fiction. 2. Pioneers—Oregon—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3561.I712S94 2008




  This book is dedicated to those who remember:

  The People of Sherman and Wasco Counties,

  The People

  of The Confederated Tribes of

  the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon,

  and Jerry.



  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page



  Glossary of Indian Words



  Part I: The Beginning

  Close Encounters

  Fluffy Man


  Panama Loss

  Shysters and Shenanigans



  A Place of Belonging

  On the Wings of an Eagle

  A Search of the Heart


  The Porcupine Dance

  Second Chances


  The Plans of Men



  A Future and a Hope

  The Gift Hide of My Heart

  Part II: Dream Catching



  After the Storm



  Family Matters

  To Trust in the Plan

  The Falls




  Beginnings and Ends



  The Dance


  Author’s Note

  Readers Guide



  All words are Sahaptin (Warm Springs language) unless indicated.


  akw’álq (Wasco)—root bag or sally bag



  chchuu txanati—“Please be quiet” said to a group



  ikawa (Wasco)—badger

  inanuksh (Wasco)—otter


  kápn—digging stick

  kot-num (Wasco)—long house





  lukws—round root with white flowers


  niix máicqi—“good morning”

  páwapaatam—“help me”

  piaxi—bittersweet root

  pimx—uncle, father’s brother

  shaptákai—Indian suitcase


  wapas—root bag or sally bag



  From Warm Springs Sahaptin: How the Warm Springs Language Works: A Grammar. Copyright © 1991 by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon. Used by permission.

  “Desire realized is a sweetness to the soul” (Proverbs 13:19).

  “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD, ‘plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11).

  Round and wrapped in rawhide with a feather hanging from the leather, its center is crisscrossed like a spider web with sinew. A bead or stone symbolizing the mythical goodness of the spider forms the center; the feather represents the eagle, the only bird believed to fly between the dream world and our own. Hung over a child’s bed while he sleeps, the spider web catches the child’s bad dreams to be burned by the sun in the morning; the good dreams know their way through and wait—to be chased by the child into the future.





  Like the slow rising of the river after an early snow melt in the mountains, he seeped into my life, unhurried, almost without notice, until the strength and breadth of him covered everything that had once been familiar, made it different, new over old. It was the summer after the tragedy. I date everything from that time, but isn’t that often how it is with catastrophes? And I guess, for me, that’s when it all began.

  I recall little of our initial encounter, really, though in years since he has told me details enough to make me think I remember it well. But I don’t. At least not his part in it. Lodenma says I was mourning grievous injustices that summer. At twelve, I doubt I’d have used those words, but Lodenma, my lifelong friend, who is still eight years older than I, had three years of marriage beneath her chemise by that year—1861 it was—so knew first hand about grievous injustices.

  No, I would have used words such as “smoking mad” or “hotter than a hijacker’s pistol” or just plain “flamin’ furious,” words that fit my frustration with the mules refusing to enter the pole corral that day. That alone told Lodenma I was grieving or mad, for every Oregon Territory child knows mules will not go where there is danger and attempting to force them is a waste of morning victuals. We should all be so wise.

  The milling mules’ dust first attracted Mr. Sherar’s attention—that and the smoke from my small cooking fire. From a distance (he is fond of relating) he spied the powdery volcanic dust drifting like mist through the pines and firs and junipers. He wondered what created it. He stopped his horse, pulled his telescope from the saddlebags. Through the glass, he eyed a small boy, he thought, waving his arms while mules bolted on either side of the opening to a corral he could barely see for the dust.

  “Surprised me,” he told me later. “Didn’t expect to see anyone so far from settlement, let alone a small boy pushing stock in the shadow of Captain Hood’s mountain. Wasn’t until I rode closer that I saw you were a little bit of a girl. Still are, just a bit of a thing.” He always shakes his head then, eyes atwinkle, and pulls on his grasshay-like beard in wonder, remembering.

  That day, I’d pulled my skirt up between my legs and tucked the hem of the homespun into my yarn belt giving me more freedom to move while revealing two bony knees over bare feet.

  “But it was your eyes,” he said, “that startled me. So dark, like obsidian globes nestled into white porcelain.” The Indians named them “huckleberry eyes” promising I’d be fruitful, which I guess I’ve been in a way.

  Of course, I was flamin’ furious and I suspect my violet eyes, huckleberry or not, were as hard as black marble. And while I vaguely remember seeing a tall man on horseback off the trail holding a brass glass to his eye, I was more concerned with the mules.

  Papa had sent me to fetch them. I was to bring the animals into the shady upper corrals, then ride one home. In the morning, he planned to return with me and push the small herd back to winter nearer our cabin named for the place along the Barlow Trail where those bound for Oregon crossed our creek. Fifteen Mile Crossing we lived at, in the valley of the Tygh people. Our old home is less than a day’s ride from this home where we live now, but I have not seen it since the altercation with my mother over Ella all those years ago. It’s funny, the pleasures we deprive ourselves of rather than face our fears.

  After several disastrous attempts that morning long ago, I stomped again to the corral gate trying to see what would keep the animals from passing through it, wishing just for the moment that I had a herd of horses to contend with. Horses can be convinced to enter in, so willing are they to give up good sense to loyalty and making humans happy. Not so with mules.

  I ran my fingers over the poles worn smooth by animal hides rubbing past; couldn’t find any slivers or thorns or bees. I looked over the ground just inside the gate but saw nothing but a few pine needles scattered like dead grasshoppers in the dust. Nothing I could see in the corral opening should have bothered them. And beyond, the corral was empty, quiet, cool.

  Miss Em, the biggest, darkest mule, stood well beyond the circle of poles, but had not run off. It was as though she wanted to go in but something kept her out. Not unlike some people, I suppose.

  “Come on,” I pleaded, walking toward her, my palm open in begging. I was getting hungry and she was usually easily caught up. I thought I might tie her to the railing and then gather others up one by one and lead them through. But that day Miss Em jerked back, twisted and bucked her head, kicked out at the hot noon air, snorted, then burst toward an abrupt stop just beyond the gate. Dust spattered like buckshot into the still fall air.

  I started around her to herd all seven of them up and try once more to yell them through the gate when I saw movement from the corner of my eye. Just the glimmer of movement, near the center of the corral, almost like a bird’s shadow or like the seepage of water from a leather bag left lying in the dirt. But there was no bird, no bag. And no water in the dirt.

  I turned slowly. The movement increased, in several directions now, the ooze taking on familiar shape and multiplying. More than one. A den of them, in fact, writhing and turning over each other in the dirt just beyond the gate, making the dust move ever so slowly like the beginnings of an avalanche of snow. The movement formed into diamonds of brown and white and then I recognized them and their hiss.

  Their presence incensed me, left me with an exaggerated sense of outrage, of invasion, that they should be there, in my corral. Childish fury propelled me toward revenge.

  Charging to the fire, I grabbed a limb with flames burning at the end, then jerked the kerosene lamp I’d set quietly beside a sitting log. I gave no thought to the danger. I spun toward the reptile pile, sprayed the kerosene from the lamp over the writhing forms, and dropped the flaming stick.

  Rattlesnakes never bothered me after that. At least not the legless kind.

  The stench and the black smoke it billowed up into, the braying and snorting of mules, and the scorch of heat at my feet and my face are my strongest memories of that day, not that moments later I met the man sixteen years older than myself who had been staring at me from a distance and whom in less than twenty-four months I’d marry.


  Joseph was totally taken with Frederic Tudor, and I suppose that’s when the dream really began though it must have been misting up over the lakes of New York long before he met that fluffy man.

  I couldn’t believe it when Joseph first told me of this fluffy man’s wild scheme. We were lying side by side watching the December snow pile up against the isinglass, listening to the wind howl in outrage at our comfort and safety inside our small Oregon home. As the ice formed on the glass, Joseph told me.

  “Ice? In the tropics? But how could that be?” I asked, propping myself up on one elbow, sure he was teasing me, something he could easily do with his sixteen years’ head start on my experience. But he wasn’t. He stretched his muscled arms behind his head. His blue eyes took on a faraway look as he remembered that strange little man who taught him about risk and dreaming.

  He met Frederic the day he tried to leave New York, a place Joseph had no reason to desert. At least that’s what the family lore is. I’ve heard wide versions when we’ve ventured back east to sit around the family table with his brothers and sisters, nieces and nephew. They all say he had no reason to leave.

  Joseph’s father owned a large farm near Nicholville in upstate New York where Joseph once served as the family expert in stock handling. Though he could match a set of horses to the harness better than most around the county, by the time he was twenty-three he’d settled on his preference for mules over horses “because of their superior intelligence.” It’s a point he debates still over cards in the saloon.

  His father ran a store that offered everything from garlic to harrow plows, pickles to pitchforks. They fed the store from the local produce, imports, and their own millinery and mantua-making operation. Not the flimsy over-garments of the French but American corsets, stiffened wit
h whale bone, sturdy hemp, and flax. Those corsets cinched and shaped the women of an expanding nation. I always felt they cinched more than shaped, but no one ever asked those of us who wore them.

  When I visited their store in later years, I was totally taken by the rainbow of colors of calico and the leather boots of Moroccan blue that stretched from counter to rafters. Barrels of pickles floating in salt brine and wire baskets of brown eggs and wheel axles and cooper’s rings shrunk the aisles requiring ladies of the day to walk sideways with their wide skirts, their cloth handbags dangling from their wrists rubbing against the bounty as they passed the clerks bent to their work. So much! Such luxuries! And Joseph left it all and had to argue with his father for the privilege.

  Joseph says his arguments with his oldest brother James sizzled like any youngster trying to best his older brother. But his arguments with his father burned. “His nostrils flared” with the mere mention of The West. Joseph reminds me that the Hebrew word for “wrath” is translated as “flared nostrils,” and I can almost see the old man’s outrage rolling up his Irish face, his thick white mustache bobbing as he spoke: “Ye’ve no need ta go like yer bro,” (Joseph could mimic well his father’s words). “Ye’ve all ye need ta here.” Then he’d slam his hand on the table and watch the pewter plates rearrange themselves as they often did around Joseph’s family table.

  “Papa never did understand,” Joseph said. And he never crossed the divide to visit us in later years, either. That always bothered Joseph since he saw his father as a kindred spirit having immigrated to the new world from Ireland before Joseph was even born. Joseph saw himself as doing little different.

  Maybe if James had not gone west first and done so well, it might have been less troublesome. But Joseph’s oldest brother had made the trip around the horn in forty-eight and hit the California gold fields like a hungry coyote in a rabbit warren. He returned four years later laden with a dishpan full of nuggets, treasure enough to last the family a lifetime. After that, his father could never understand why anyone—especially the baby—would want to leave New York.