About the Author
Judith Miller is an award-winning writer whose avid research and love for history are reflected in her bestselling novels. Judy and her family make their home in Kansas. Learn more at www.judithmccoymiller.com.
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By JUDITH MILLER
Bethany House PublishersCopyright © 2005 Judith Miller
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTopeka, Kansas July 1877
The iron behemoth punctuated the sizzling Kansas skies with a solitary high-pitched whistle as it belched and wheezed into the train yard. With a powerful burp, the locomotive jerked to a quaking stop that heaved the passengers to and fro like rag dolls.
A steely-eyed conductor with an official railroad cap pulled low on his forehead edged his way down the narrow center aisle. "Topeka!" His voice was curt as he enunciated the city's name.
Jarena Harban removed a folded handkerchief from the pocket of her frayed cotton skirt and rubbed the smudged train window. Vestiges of cinder and ash stubbornly clung to the outside of the glass, but she could see well enough to determine there were a multitude of people waiting at the train depot. They were mostly white folks, but she spied a few coloreds among the crowd. She swiped the window again, but to no avail. With a defeated shrug, she tucked the cotton square back into her pocket.
Across the aisle, her sisters giggled and whispered. Apparently, they found her useless ministrations a fine source of humor. Jarena leaned forward, prepared to launch a look of disdain toward the twins, but her worn straw bonnet slid forward to conceal her annoyed expression from everyone except her father.
"Don't paythem no mind. They ain't laughin' at you. They's jest excited to finally be here." Her father's rich bass voice soothed like rippling water.
Smoothing her skirt, Jarena stood and gave her father a tentative smile. "It's obvious they're not aware the train ride from Kentucky to Topeka was the simple portion of our journey."
"Now, don't you go borrowin' worries, gal. Ridin' across the prairie in a wagon is gonna be right excitin'."
Jarena raised her perfectly arched brows. "It's also going to be uncomfortable and much slower than riding in a train," she replied, making certain she spoke loudly enough for her sisters to hear.
Truth Harban locked arms with her twin sister, Grace, and directed a smug grin at her older sister. "There's gonna be plenty to see and do along the way."
"Indeed there will! I plan on you two helping with chores, so don't think you'll be running off to explore every hill and valley when we stop to eat the noonday meal or camp for the night."
"Tell Jarena she's not in charge, Pappy. She's only three years older than us, but she's always tellin' us what to do," Grace complained. She gave her father a bright, encouraging smile.
Ezekiel wiped his brow with the old kerchief that hung loosely around his thick neck and motioned the girls into the aisle with a swipe of his large hand. "Get on now and quit your arguing. I don't think none of us is gonna be taking charge of crossin' this here state. Massa Hill said we's to meet him on the platform, so get to movin'."
"Mister Hill, Pappy. There ain't nobody your master or boss no more-ceptin' maybe Jarena." Truth poked her sister in the side as she spoke. Once again the girls burst into a fit of giggles.
Jarena's father was frowning at the twins. "You two mind your manners," he admonished.
"And your grammar!"
Truth cast a sullen look at her older sister. "Jest 'cause you liked getting all educated don't mean we do."
Jarena sighed in exasperation. She had worked diligently to teach the girls proper grammar. Why they insisted upon ignoring their English lessons was beyond her.
As they stepped off the train, the twins peeked around either side of their father, each one beaming an impish grin in Jarena's direction. They were small for their fifteen years, and Jarena was certain their father often forgot the twins were no longer little girls, especially at times such as this, when they should be speaking proper English and acting like young ladies.
They'd been off the train only a moment when Grace pointed toward a young man standing on the platform and banging a wooden mallet on an oversized brass gong. In between the incessant drumming, he cheerfully encouraged the passengers to partake of the fine food inside the depot dining room.
"You think we could get us somethin' to eat, Pappy?" Grace inquired in a wistful tone.
Their father shook his head and pointed to the basket Jarena had been carrying with her since they departed Kentucky. She had carefully planned what she hoped would be enough food to tide them over until they reached their destination. However, when they neared St. Louis, she had begun to grow uncertain. Fortunately, her father hadn't objected to the rationing Jarena had imposed, and they arrived in Topeka with some victuals to spare. Grace tilted her head and raised her nose high. "It do smell good, though, don' it, Pappy?" "That it do, chil'. You girls take your satchels and then stand outta the way." Ezekiel looked around for a moment and then pointed toward one end of the platform. "Go wait over there by that corner. Too many people rushin' around tryin' to get into dat fancy restaurant or find their bags."
Grace peered anxiously at the depot door. "Can't we go inside and see the depot?"
"There's lots more to see out here dan inside that train station. 'Sides, I wanna be able to find all three of you together once Mr. Hill gets all the folks gathered to leave for Nicodemus. Don't want none of you gettin' lost," their father warned.
Jarena strained to see through the crowd, hoping to pick out a familiar face. "There's Nellie and Calvin," she said, waving her handkerchief high in the air. "Nellie! Over here!"
Nellie waved in recognition before herding several other members of their group toward Jarena and the twins.
Calvin glanced about as they drew closer. "Where's your pappy?"
"He went off to find Mr. Hill," Truth replied. "You seen Mr. Hill since gettin' off the train?"
"Nope." With a swipe of his shirtsleeve, Calvin cleared the sweat from his brow. "Ain't seen Hill or Ivan Lovejoy. I thought they was both s'posed to meet us. Sure 'nuff is sweltering, ain't it? Don't recall it ever gettin' this hot in Kentucky."
Miss Hattie, Nellie's outspoken grandmother, stepped toward them and wagged her head back and forth. "That's purely 'cause you ain't old 'nuff to remember. I recall the summer of eighteen and forty-now, that there was one summer. Umm, umm! Why, it was so hot that the fries wouldn't even alight for fear of bein' fried when they come to rest. They'd just circle round and round 'til they dropped dead from the heat." The old woman drew circles in the air with one finger and gave a throaty laugh.
Nellie smiled gently at her grandmother. "Now, Granny, don' get started on dem stories 'bout the old days or we'll never get on our way."
Hattie limped toward a bench alongside the building and plopped down in the shady spot. "I sure is achy from all that sittin'. Don' look like we's goin' anywhere right now, nohow. Where's that Hill feller that's s'posed to be in charge?"
"Pappy's off lookin' for him," Truth repeated.
Hattie thumped the tip of her ancient parasol on the wooden platform. "Ain't deaf, chil', jest got weary bones."
"Perhaps you should raise that parasol to help cool yourself," Jarena suggested kindly. "We may be here for a while yet."
"Don' think so. There's your pappy now. Looks like that Hill feller is with him." Miss Hattie used her umbrella as a pointer while raising one hand to shade her eyes. She put her hand on Jarena's arm and lowered her voice. "Ain't sure I trust that feller. He's got shifty eyes."
Jarena giggled and sat down beside the aging woman. Jarena had always felt close to her friend's grandmother and even more so since her mother had passed away. "You don't trust most folks until you've known them at least five years, Miss Hattie, but I believe you may be right about Mr. Hill."
Miss Hattie nodded knowingly, her head bobbing up and down in time with the footsteps of the men as they drew closer. "Yep-his eyes is shifty and watery-that's a bad combination fer sure. Tell your pappy that man ain't worth his salt."
"It's probably better if you tell him. I said way more about Mr. Hill and this move to Kansas than Pappy wanted to hear before we ever left Kentucky."
The woman gave Jarena a sidelong glance. "Nellie tol' me you was set on stayin' in Kentucky. How come you didn't want to give your ol' pappy a chance to get hisself outta them hemp fields?"
"I wasn't trying to keep him in the hemp fields. I asked him to wait awhile-until after some of the other families from Georgetown came west. So we could hear what things were truly like in Nicodemus before he made a final decision."
"Ain't got no sense of adventure, that it?" she asked with amusement as Mr. Hill approached.
Grace giggled and covered her mouth with one hand. "She didn't wanna leave her beau."
"Now I understand." Miss Hattie nodded as a sly smile curved her thick lips. "Yessuh, I surely do."
Jarena opened her mouth to issue a protest, but Miss Hattie and the other travelers were on their feet, moving toward her father and Mr. Hill. The two men stepped onto the platform and waved the small group forward. The hot summer breeze whipped at Mr. Hill's straggly blond hair, the thin tufts flying in all directions, while her father's wiry black curls remained motionless, totally unruffled by the wind. Mr. Hill straightened his shoulders and gave them a thin-lipped smile. His brown suit jacket and pants held several layers of the powdery dust that was swirling around them as they stood in the afternoon sun.
"Welcome to Kansas," Mr. Hill greeted halfheartedly as he surveyed the group.
Miss Hattie's whisper was a little too loud, and Jarena couldn't help but grin as she squeezed her hand.
Hill glanced in the old woman's direction. "I truly am pleased to see you. If my welcome seemed less than exuberant, it's because I must ask your further indulgence. There are several other folks interested in joining our group, and they're not yet prepared to begin the journey."
When no one else spoke up, Miss Hattie waved her umbrella in the air. "How long you 'spectin' us to sit here in this sun waitin' fer you to finish what oughta already been done? And where's Mr. Lovejoy? Ain't he s'posed to be meetin' us, too?"
"Mr. Lovejoy departed for Nicodemus last week," he replied as he loosened the collar of his once-white shirt. "As for the rest of your question, I should be prepared to leave in an hour or two, but for those of you who might be interested, I could take you into town in the wagon with me. That's where I'm to meet the remainder of our settlers. You could use the time to advantage-purchase any last-minute necessities and take a gander at the capitol building they're constructing. If everybody comes along, we won't be required to return to the train station."
Miss Hattie wagged her head back and forth and leaned toward Jarena. "Ain't fer certain I trust Ivan Lovejoy, neither. He ain't really one of us. He's been livin' out here in Topeka fer nigh onto three years now-least that's what your pappy tol' me."
"But he's from Kentucky," Grace said, "and Pappy says he's a good man."
Miss Hattie shaded her eyes as Ezekiel ambled toward them. "Your pappy don't think bad of no one 'til they prove they's no account."
"Can we go along to town, Pappy?" Grace asked as she danced from foot to foot. "Please say yes."
Truth hurried to her sister's side. "This might be our only opportunity to see the capitol building, Pappy."
Ezekiel scratched the back of his head and then waved the girls onward. "I reckon won't hurt nothin'." When Jarena remained seated beside Miss Hattie, her father waved her forward, too. "You come along with us, Jarena."
"You two ain't foolin' me none at all," Nellie said to her friend and her grandmother. "I bet you's wantin' to go into town and have a look-see fer yourselves."
"Come on, Miss Hattie." Ezekiel walked to the older woman and assisted her up into the bed of Mr. Hill's wagon. "Might git to see something that'll put a sparkle in your eyes."
The old woman gave a disgusted grunt as she dropped down beside Nellie and Jarena. "I seen all the new and excitin' things I wanna see in this here lifetime, but don' look like I got much choice about seein' some more. Appears like all the rest of you is wantin' to ride along and take a look at this here big city of Topekee."
Ezekiel's stern look brought an immediate halt to the twins' giggling.
Jarena watched the girls momentarily squirm and then pivot their gaze upon the older woman. "We're sorry, Miss Hattie."
She nodded her acceptance of their joint apology before turning her attention back to Jarena. "Now let's get back to discussin' that boy you left in Kentucky. I thought I knowed everything goin' on back home. How'd this one get past me?"
"He's not my beau-just a friend." Her cheeks warmed at Miss Hattie's prying question. "The twins tend to exaggerate."
A glint shone in Truth's eyes. "Charles Francis."
"Is that right? Charlie Francis?" Miss Hattie's brow puckered. "I always thought that young man seemed a little bit sour-'specially for a gal with your sweet disposition."
Grace peeked around Nellie with a mischievous grin. "You won't be thinkin' Jarena's so sweet by the time we get to Nicodemus, Miss Hattie. She's got a mean streak...."
"An' she's mighty bossy, too." Truth bobbed her head up and down.
The old woman leaned back against the side of the wagon and guffawed. "I'd say a person would be needin' both of them things to keep the two of you behavin' on a regular basis."
Jarena beamed a self-satisfied grin at the twins as the wagon neared a bridge. "Pappy told Charles he could come callin'," she told Miss Hattie, "but that was about the same time Mr. Hill and Mr. Lovejoy came to Georgetown and got everyone fired up about moving to Kansas. We didn't have enough time to get to know each other very well."
Hattie patted Jarena's fingers with her gnarled, leathery hand. "Don't you be frettin', chil'. His mama tol' me they was comin' out here with the next group from back home. Not that Lula was wantin' to leave. She'd rather stay put in Georgetown, but I think she finally gave up arguin' against the move when Charlie said he was leaving no matter what his mammy and pappy decided."
"Charles said that? I didn't know. Thank you for telling me, Miss Hattie."
The thought of Charles's declaration caused a warm glow to tinge Jarena's cheeks. Even though he'd announced his intentions to travel west on numerous occasions, his words had fallen flat, always lacking the determined enthusiasm she had longed to hear. Now Miss Hattie's words caused her heart to quicken and restored her belief that Charles had been sincere-that he would journey to Kansas.
Miss Hattie grasped Jarena's arm as the wagon slowly rolled onto the narrow bridge that spanned the Kansas River. "This ol' bridge don't appear none too sturdy, and I never did figure out how to swim-ol' Massa never would let us learn. He told us there was a mighty deep river we'd have to cross if we run off, and we'd drown fer sure. Umm, umm. Dat man was a liar on top of being mean as a mad dog. I searched and searched after I got my freedom-never did find no river near thereabouts. Course ol' Massa got what he wanted. We was too afeared to run away."
"Well, you're free now, Miss Hattie, and there's no need to worry about swimming. The bridge is going to hold up, and we're all going to be just fine."
When the wagon finally rolled off the bridge and began to rumble down Kansas Avenue, Jarena gave Miss Hattie a reassuring smile.
The old woman released her death grip on Jarena's arm and looked around. "These here folks in Topekee got themselves a lot of churches. Must have a disagreeable bunch living in this here town."
Truth leaned forward and looked at Miss Hattie. "I ain't seen nobody fightin'. Why you think they're disagreeable?"
"They got a Baptist church on one corner and a Methodist on the opposite corner, and right up the street they got three or four more churches. I figure they get their backs up 'bout something the preacher says and go huffing off to start 'em another church. Likely hopin' they'll get themselves a new preacher that'll say exactly what they're wantin' to hear. Um, hum, dat's what I'm thinkin'." Hattie's ample body swayed back and forth on the wagon seat as she pointed toward the various church buildings.
Mr. Hill glanced over his narrow shoulder and shook his head. "I can attest to the fact that folks aren't disagreeable, Miss Hattie. Topeka's a large city, and it needs more than one or two churches."
She pointed her parasol toward two men staggering out of a saloon. "From the looks of those two, it appears you're right about this town needin' lots of churches."
Excerpted from First Dawn by JUDITH MILLER Copyright © 2005 by Judith Miller. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another book ruined by harriet klausner and her cliff note book report. Bn please ban this plot spoiler and delete all her plot spoiling so called reviews. She consistently reveals every detail of the plot line including the ending. She needs to go.
This is such a great book. The struggles these people went through are heart breaking. But the strength of spirit is great. I liked the way the Author gave us the view from both sides. How great God is to heal our hearts, minds and bodies. I also enjoyed the truths of how God doesn't answer our prayers in the way we think he should, but in his way. Thank you for a great story. Lookong forward to the next one.
This was a great series. There is some truth to the story, how much the peoples struggled. You must read all three together. Very touching. I'm excited fo the next set.
Decent book about settlers/pioneers and their various struggles regardless of their skin color
I REALLY ENJOYED THIS BOOK AND JUST LOVED THE PEOPLE IN IT, THE GOOD ONES! I COULDN'T HARDLY PUT IT DOWN. SURE HOPE SHE COMES UP WITH A SEQUEL TO IT.
310 pages, Bethany House Publication which is a leading publisher of Christian fiction. This one was not as preachy as some. Free. Editing had a few glaring errors which surprized me, as Bethany House is usually perfect. This is a very slow moving book with lots of repeatious events. There are numerous unfinished threads and it has an incomplete conclusion. I thought there might be a sequal, but I could not find one on either nook or kindle. Many African Americans migrate to Kansas and suffer many hardships through no fault of their own. Parts of this story were interesting. I hate cliff hanger endings. This book was entirely too long and I found it rather boring. For ages 14 and up. Chick lit. A very tame read with a small amount of violence. A childbirth was rather graphic with lots of screaming. The main reason I did not care very much for this book was because caucasians were both the problem and the rescuers. I wish there books like this where African Americans played the stronger roles and did not need saving by other races. AD
I was very impressed with the diversity of unity regardless of your race.
Keeps you wondering what's going to happen
Held my interest from beginning to end .
Wonderfully written, engaging story line and characters that draw the reader into the drama.
This book is a fictionalized version of true historical events with which I had not been familiar. I was fascinated and proud of the pioneers who made their way to Kansas and made the best of a horrible situation. It is a story that many of today's disadvantaged people could learn much from. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading the second book in the series.
Enjoyed the history of the story.
I think its good.
This reminds me of the Donner party' s trials. I did not realize that the town of Nicodemus existed and is now a ghost town. I was amazed how the lives of very different families meshed together in the pursuit of survival. Very well-written and intriguing story. Helps me count my blessings.
Loved the history
Loved this book, hated to see it end. Characters were heart warming as well as the story. I looked up both towns on the web and read the history. They certainly went thru their hardships.
Sharecroppers and their families move out West with a promise of a new town, land, and riches. What happens when they get there and find out that the town is nothing like they promised and they have arrived unprepared?? Can they survive? The message through this book is that God answers prayers, but not always in the way we would like them to be answered, and not always in the time that we want them answered.
Love this series
The book was just fine...a good story. Can't understand folks getting in such a snit over other reviews...don't read them, especially if they are long...and for crying out loud!! Don't blame the story for your meltdown!!
Enjoyed the book immensely. The ending is vague.
Driving through western Kansas two weeks ago I saw a road sign said "Nicodemus Project." I had never heard of Nicodemus Project. When I arrived home, my first book to read was First Dawn. I wish I had visited Nicodemus Project after reading the book, First Dawn.