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FLORA'S LETTERS
A glimpse into turn of the century life in Tombstone Arizona
by Janice
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Flora's LettersTombstone - Monday 4 PM
Feb. 4 - 1901

Dear Father and Annie

We have kept our eyes in the windows all day looking for John. We have been expecting him since Sat'y. The storms of last week delayed him. I sat up Friday all day and felt pretty well, but Saturday pm Julia came down again with fever and is still in bed but feeling better. Not her throat this time & in fact the Dr. has been at a loss to know what causes the fever & concluded it must be malaria. He can not make a test of her blood till his microscope comes. Anyway quinine has helped her. He says it is either her kidneys or malaria. Today it is bright and pleasant and I think we will soon be out and well. Henri & J.P. are very well & have been out to play Sunday. Julia said to say she wished we would have letters from Grandpa and Nammie every day. We had quite a snow storm Saturday but it melted almost immediately. We have enjoyed all your letters lately. Julia G. is only nine months older than J.R. Julia wants to know what grade J.G. is in and what is she doing in number work. The Dr. wants J- to live out of doors for a few years. Henri is developing nicely .... spends much time & loves to do "kindergarten"as she calls it. Pasting paper rings - stringing beads - putting colored pegs in peg board etc. She sticks them better than Julia ever did. I was much interested in your.....

   I read this letter along with a collection of others that Flora wrote to "Father and Annie". We had received the package of these old letters from some place far from Tombstone and I was soon captivated by the persona of Flora and the life she must have had while living in Tombstone over a century ago. I deduced from the other letters and some clippings that came along with the package that these letters were being sent to El Paso Texas and the time frame was from the late 1890's through 1901. The handwriting was quite hard to decipher and I wondered if it was that hard for Father and Annie to read as well. Their advantage would be their intimate knowledge of whom Annie is writing about and my disadvantage being that in this century I have become spoiled to the typed word.

   Flora mentions John again and I decide this must be her husband. Different letters speak of John either having just arrived home or expected home. In one letter Flora mentions... "John came home to-night & I was glad - I was getting the blues with McKinley shot..." The president's assassination occurred in September of 1901 and Flora is waiting in Tombstone for her John to come home knowing his return will mend her blues while writing a letter only to Annie this time. Here she speaks of "receiving word to-day from Mrs. Bacon that she was quite ill .... and Philip and Henri have not been quite well from bowel trouble but they are better." The next words she writes portray a mother's feelings .... no matter what century it is!!! "Julia begins school tomorrow & I dread the rough elements she has to meet." I chuckle to myself and remember the letter (e-mail) I received from my daughter telling me about her daughter starting school last September .... oh the elements she had to meet!!

   "Nothing definitive yet about the kindergarten but in time I hope we will have one. People are not educated up to it yet. Mrs. Cheyney's sister Mrs. Starmuth may be here to live by the 1st of the year & she will help me as she has tried to get one up in Congress. I have eleven pupils promised but no teacher yet."

   In September 1901, Flora is apparently trying to start a kindergarten. How strange it sounded to hear that "...people are not educated up to it (kindergarten) yet." Children today seem to have a 2nd grade education level when starting kindergarten!! What must life have been like for this protagonist? She had "promised" eleven children a kindergarten and she needed a teacher .... Flora was going to see to it that this was a promise not to be broken. She speaks of trying to get a kindergarten started up in Congress and I decide she must be referring to the town of Congress Arizona. A once busy mining town near Wickenburg, but today is only a ghost town. A ghost town that had a kindergarten.

   The collection also contains a letter written to Father and Annie in a more elongated handwriting with the usual bold strokes of a masculine fashion. The ink appears to be from a fountain pen and the abbreviations apparently used to hasten the completion. The letter is dated 7:30 PM Tombstone Dec. 20. I imagine it must have been pertinent to mark the time on this letter. And a /01 had been added in pencil, perhaps Flora's afterthought as this letter signed by "Jack" has additional notes added along the margins and up the sides of the paper written in her handwriting.

Dear Father & Annie

The children have just gone to bed a tired out lot. I got home last night and found them all wrought up to a high pitch of excitement.

The Bacons came in later and Mrs. B and Flora trimmed the little tree while the Dr. and I smoked and talked. When we returned both J & H waked up and wanted to know if it was morning. We put a few things in their stockings. They had me up lighting matches long before daylight.... F. got up and dressed them. First they grabbed a thing or two and came up stairs, that is up the two steps to the bed room & afterward they took in the balance of the things piled about the tree. Then we opened the Mrs. M. box.... Flora is delighted with her spoon and the prospect of the bazaar. My necktie is to my liking and is needed in my wardrobe. Flora gave me a small carving set and a big warm comforter for my camp bed. Julia a watch box and H. a blue neck tie and J.P. a leather watch chain. I gave F. a fur boa and the children gave her things of their own selection. The children were remembered by the Bacons, the Bedfords, Mrs. Kringle, Mrs. Barrows, Mrs. Platt (Colo Springs), Mrs. Servass and others. The day has been beautiful. We had a fine dinner but F. is pretty tired to-night

   Here were descriptions of a Christmas celebration happening before the 25th in 1901. A visit home timed for a celebration no matter what the date was and John (Jack) mentions that he would be going back to his camp soon where the needed warm comforter would be taken. The simple things of life where Flora receives a spoon and Jack receives a necktie to his liking are greatly appreciated and spoken of in his letter to perhaps his father. And the days' exhaustion can be understood by anyone who knows the holidays, then or now. Jack continues on and I find myself reading of something unheard of... at least I never heard of this.

One thing that has marred the day is the thought of the Vickers family. Last Saturday Lillian 22 yrs old in her 3rd year at Bryn Mahr College was burned to death while taking an alcohol bath. By some means her night dress caught fire while she was alone in her room. Her body is now on its way to Los Angeles to be buried there. She was a lovely girl, very bright and fine looking...

The letter concludes with I expect to return to Bisbee day after to-morrow. And is signed Yours, Jack. Over the scrawl of Jack's handwriting, Flora adds her graceful touch with words and writes:

Dear Annie and Father,

Your box was so lovely. I never saw such dolls & the children have had such a happy day. Mrs. Bacon thinks you're a wonder Annie. My spoon is a beauty & I am so glad of the bazaar. Mrs. Bacon gave me "Aftermath". I am too tired to write but will hope to more. The house is topsy turvy but all are happy. I am thankful, Flora

   The sentences Flora wrote in these letters would run on and on often times interspersed with everyday talk of weather to frightful thoughts of possible malaria. I imagined the conversation Flora would have had with the doctor and tried to picture a kindly family doctor who pays a visit on this little girl. I am amazed at the lack of urgency felt when she casually stated that the test on Julia's blood could not be performed until the microscope came in. Flora mentions the quinine and I compare the urgent phone call I received this week from my daughter 200 miles away who had a concern about her son's penicillin reaction. How I have taken for granted the system of communication we have today and the instant gratification we receive from it. How would I have reacted reading that my granddaughter might possibly have malaria and having to wait for the next letter with news of this little girl's condition?

   I feel as if I met a fine woman when I read these letters to Father and Annie. Flora lived in Tombstone a century and a lifetime ago and yet she writes her thoughts that are timeless. She longs for a husband to return home and worries about his delay in the snowstorm. Her children get ill and she must wait on test results to understand why. She sends her child off to the first day of school and worries about the elements to be faced. The children find joy in letters from grandparents. She writes stories of her children's development and conveys her desires for their educational needs. And what fun it was to read of their Christmas in 1901 and the simplest of gifts so greatly appreciated.

   Tombstone was Flora's home. The letters she sent to Father and Annie have made their way back to Tombstone and to my heart. I have only a few and they are scattered in dates leaving me to wonder so much about the life of a woman whose words gave me just a small reflection of Tombstone.... the home of John, Flora, Julia, Henri, and J.P. Last name unknown.

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