Two Men


When Tommy’s family left Sugar Creek camp, Tommy was driving one team of oxen and his father was driving another. It was the first time Tommy had ever driven, and he was so intent on what he was doing that he did not notice how bright the sun was shining nor how warm it was getting. He did not even notice that his mother had replaced her heavy winter coat with a light shawl. He only knew that it was necessary for him to crack the whip more often to keep the oxen moving. Suddenly he realized that this was because the ground was thawing; the wheels of the wagon were sinking deeper and deeper into the soft prairie mud, and it was harder and harder for the oxen to pull the load.

Tommy was afraid that they would never catch up with the main wagon train that had left Sugar Creek the day before. He was surprised and happy when late that afternoon he heard the sound of voices and knew that the camp was not far away. He coaxed the oxen on in soft, soothing tones.

“Steady now,” he said. “P-u-l-l together.” The oxen responded as if they understood every word. They lurched forward with such power that the wheels rolled easily, and soon Tommy found himself in camp surrounded by admiring friends.

“You drove all the way from Sugar Creek?” one asked.

“That’s great,” said another. “I wish my father would let me drive.”

Suddenly it started to rain. At first it was a soft, gentle rain that did not bother Tommy as he milked the cow and helped his father feed the oxen. Later, when they started to pitch the tent, the rain came down in fierce, angry sheets that bit into Tommy’s shoulders. The wind blew so hard that it wrenched the tent out of their hands.

“We’ll have to do without the tent tonight,” Father finally decided.

“Where will you and Mamma sleep?” asked Tommy. “My wagon is too full of corn and wheat for anybody to sleep there.”

“You and Betsy can sleep with Mamma in the other wagon,” answered his father, “and I will make a bed underneath it for me.”

“I will sleep under the wagon,” said Tommy quietly.

Father did not answer at once, but Tommy knew by the pressure of his hand that he was proud that his son had offered. Finally Father quietly said, “I’ll help you gather pine boughs to put on the ground so your bed won’t sink into the mud.”

Tommy was glad when they had enough pine boughs, because it was difficult to cut them in the stinging rain. Over these pine boughs he and his father put the folded tent, leaving enough of it free on each side to pull over the bedroll so Tommy would not get wet.

When the bed was ready, Tommy crawled into it. At first it was frightening to be alone in the storm. Never had he heard such loud thunder, and the lightning flashes were so close that he could see small fires appear in the tops of the trees where lightning had hit. Even though he knew the heavy rain would soon put them out, Tommy was afraid. What if the lightning should strike the wagon where the others are sleeping? he asked himself. He wanted to call out to his father for comfort, but he didn’t want anyone to know that he was afraid.

I’ll ask Heavenly Father to help me, he said to himself. And he did. Tommy almost expected his prayer to be answered by the thunder and the lightning stopping. Instead it was answered by Tommy not being afraid any more.

Then Tommy began to enjoy the storm. It was almost as if giant fireworks were everywhere. Instead of wanting to go to sleep, he wanted to stay awake so he would not miss any of it. But since the storm lasted all night, Tommy’s eyes finally closed. He did not open them again until he felt water lapping at his feet and discovered that the little creek beside which they had camped had become a raging torrent during the night.

Excitedly Tommy called out to his father, “The creek has overflowed and the back wheels of the wagon are standing in the water!”

Tommy’s father was out of the wagon in an instant. When he saw the situation, he helped Tommy pull the bed out from under the wagon and then hitched up both teams of oxen to pull the wagon out of the water. The ground was so slippery the oxen could not get a foothold.

“We will have to build a corduroy road,” said Tommy’s father.

To do this, Tommy and his father cut down many trees. They trimmed off the limbs and laid the poles side by side, close to and in front of the wagon; then with willows they bound each log tightly to the next one so they would not roll. When this was finished, they packed tough grass and pine needles on top of the poles so the oxen’s hoofs could not slip into the cracks.

Finally they coaxed the frightened oxen up onto the corduroy road and hitched them to the wagon. Father spoke to the oxen in soothing tones, “S-t-e-a-d-y now, p-u-l-l together.”

The oxen did pull together. The heavy wagon wheels rolled out of the mud, onto the tough grass, over the corduroy road, and up onto the road that the Camp of Israel would be traveling that day.

Tommy shouted, “Hooray!” But his mother cried because she was so proud of her two “men.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Virginia Sargent