Florence Shaw Kellogg.

Mother Bickerdyke as I knew her online

. (page 10 of 13)
Online LibraryFlorence Shaw KelloggMother Bickerdyke as I knew her → online text (page 10 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

my old face can do you any good you shall have it to
look at." So it is that the dear old face looks down
at me always, at once an inspiration and a benedic-
tion, helping me to remember always the spirit in
which she worked, and inciting me to greater patience
and perseverance. It is a beautiful face to me.

"Beautiful, though not with youth.

But with the sweet, low lines of soul.

The love that never dies. ' '

Beautiful with all the record of her well spent life,
with the ripeness, the maturity of age, the eyes brood-
ing and tender with mother love, the mouth firm but
sweet, the whole expression that of one who looked
deep into life and believed in the good everywhere —
in short, a face that, as Helen Hunt has said, is the
"outside garment" of a strong, true soul, the face of
our dear old Mother Bickerdyke! I wish I could tell
what this pictured face has been to me all these years


of "shut-in" life; of how often, looking at it, I have
held back the impatient word that trembled upon my
lips ; of how many times, remembering her courage,
I have said, "I will" instead of "I cannot" when some
hard task invited me to Effort, or of how blest a thing
it seems to me that the little son and daughter in our
home should grow up in its — shadow — I was going to
write, but let me change it to radiance, and with a sa-
cred memory of her in their young hearts. They must
be better through all after years because of it. I am
glad to remember a similar picture must be in many a
Kansas home, doing its good work in each one.

I have read somewhere a pretty little story of a lit-
tle boy lost from his parents in the streets of some
great city, but who said to his mother later, when
found, "I wasn't lost at all, 'cause I was right there in
front of a toy-shop window all the time and I knew
where Mother Bickerdyke lived." I think this must
be the feeling of many of her soldier boys. They must
think of the "Beyond" as the place where "Mother
Bickerdyke lives," and that will make it seem less
strange, less far away, for they will think of her

"As waiting on the shore.
More beautiful, more precious than before, ' '

and will go gladly on to receive her welcoming greet-



"Pure religion, and undefiled, before God and the
Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in
their afHiction, and to keep himself unspotted from the
world." This was Mother Bickerdyke's working creed,
it and the "golden rule" held all the doctrine she
thought necessary in the living of a true religiotis life.
Hers was essentially a religion of works rather than
of words. She kept so busy in trying to follow Christ's
example of living in loving fellowship with all around
her, and doing good as she had opportunity, that she
had no time, and certainly no disposition, for "doubt-
ful disputations" over creeds and dogmas. In all my
visits with her I remember but one talk that could
be called distinctly religious, yet she always impressed
me as being, what indeed she was, a deeply religious
woman, one that rested all her hope and love, all her
life on a power beyond herself. She no more doubted
the infinite wisdom and goodness of this Power than
she doubted her own existence. The love and help of
the Father-God was as real to her as was her love for
her children. It was this perfect faith that helped her
over all the hard places and made her invincible. Did
a task seem too great for her, "I must do it — Father
help me," she said, and the help was given. "It is a
lack of faith that makes us weak. If we had faith
enough we could do anything," she told me when we
were speaking of some work that, though seeming
very difficult, had yet been done easily and success-

She was not creed-bound in any way. She cut the
lines of creeds and doctrines that would hold her back


from communion with all that was highest and holiest,
or limit her free thought and growth, as ruthlessly, as
fearlessly as in her army life she cut the "red tape"
that would hinder her from giving instant relief to
the sick and wounded. She liked a minister who dared
have "the courage of his convictions," and would
speak the truth as it was in him. In speaking to me
of a new minister who had just settled in town, she
said, "You would like him. He is by far the most
liberal minded minister we have had here, and is not
afraid to know and to preach the truth." I never knew
to what church she belonged, nor cared to know, since
all her life showed she belonged to the great working
Church of Christ. She felt little patience with those
who would

— "fix with mete and bound
The love and power of God,"

though she might pity their ignorance in doing so.
"They don't know any better now, but they will some
day, somewhere," she would say when speaking of
those who made a knowledge of and belief in some
specified doctrine the measure of a religious life and
the pledge of salvation. Hers was a family wherein
the making of ministers must have been a "goodly
work," for, when I was talking with her about writing
a sketch of her life, she said, "Don't forget to tell them
we had fifteen ministers in our immediate family, and,"
she added with a touch of pardonable pride, "four of
them were bishops."

That she knew how surely sorrow, if rightfully
borne, brings fitness for life and work, was shown in
what she said to me one day when I had expressed
surprise at the work she had done during her army
life. I spoke of it as being a consecrated work. "Yes,"
she said, "I was consecrated by sorrow. In the few
years just before the war God had taken seventeen of
those I loved best from me — among them my hus-
band. (There was always a sound of tears in her
voice when she spoke of her husband.) By my sor-
row I was taught sympathy for others' sorrows, by my


suffering I learned how to lessen the sufferings of
others. Yes," she said again while a look as of one
who summons

"Erom the shadows of the past

The f orris that once had been, ' '
came in her eyes, "yes, I was consecrated by sorrow.
God taught me how to work and gave me the work
to do." Later, in that same conversation, she said,
"No one ever does good work without being conse-
crated to it. This consecration comes through the
trials and sorrows of life — Life, all that comes to us
here is a discipline — a praparation for the work God
would have us do." She believed

"The world we live in
Comes before that which is to be hereafter,"

and that the faithful performance of duty here, the
loving service one to another, was the only prepara-
tion for the life beyond, and underneath all the work
and bustle of her life lay a great peace, a beautiful
serenity, a steadfast faith in the triumph of the right,
however long delayed.

Some one has written "God could not be everywhere,
so he made mothers." Mrs. Bickerdyke was surely
one of these God-made mothers. This dear title —
Mother — more dear, more sacred than royalty ever
wore, was hers by every right of nature and of love,
and she wore it with regal grace. It followed her
everywhere, even as did the affection that prompted
the giving of it. Tenderly as his own mother might
have done, she listened to the last, low-spoken words
of the dying soldier, soothingly she sang his "Swan
Song," as death came nearer and nearer, and his soul,
upborne by her singing, by the thoughts of love and
home and Heaven, of which she sang — floated bravely
out into the silence — God's silence. Tenderly then she
gathered up the little keepsakes he had cherished and
wrote the letter to send with them to those who waited
at home, longing — God knows how wearily — for the
sound of the footsteps they were never to hear again.
Think how many times she did this through those
dreadful years. What but mother love could have


prompted it? What but God's love could have
sustained and strengthened her for it all ? How easily
and naturally it leads us to believe in the "Father and
mother heart of God," as Theodore Parker used to
express it. It is easy to believe this human love,
though so pure and sweet, was sent by a divine Love
— more tender, more complete. Knowing, as she did,
of this divine Love, resting in it so fully, drawing her
strength from it daily, hourly, living so close to the
dividing line — if there be a dividing line — that when
once she faltered and said, "I cannot," at a service
asked of her, she heard "As plainly as I ever heard it
in my life, my husband's voice saying, 'Yes, you can,
Mary Ann," as she has told us; scarce knowing
"where earth ends and Heaven begins," believing with
all her heart and mind in a God of love, how terrible,
how false to her must have seemed the words she was
compelled to see daily as she passed in and out of the
doors of the "Old Mission Dolores," where she lived
during her long stay in San Francisco. There, in-
Scribed upon "the arch encircling the altar," as Mrs.
Davis tells us in her little story of "Mother Bicker-
dyke and the Soldier," so deeply engraven that two
hundred years of sunshine and of storm have not suf-
ficed to erase them, are these words, "How terrible is
this place! This is none other but the house of God
and the gate of Heaven." What a constant lie they
must have seemed to her, and how she must have
"ached," as she would say, to reach up and wipe them
out. "How terrible is this place !" — the place where
those devout Franciscan monks gathered the "wild
children of the woods" and sought to teach them of
the one true God who should supersede their Great
Spirit, presiding over the "Happy Hunting Ground"
of their childish faith. Truly the holy fathers must
have believed in the gospel of fear and have felt that
by it they could scare more of these people into a de-
sire for more knowledge and a better way of life than
they could win by voicing the great love story of cre-
ation — ^that story that all of Nature, with her. beautiful
flowers, her forests and streams, her mountains, lift-


ing glad hands to the heavens above, her valleys, over
which the peace of God broods perpetually — -yea,
even with her fearful storms and mighty tempests, was
e^'cr trying to tell. The good mother heart, so full of
love, must have given a constant contradiction to those
words, and she must have felt it would almost have
been better to let the Indians worship in the forests
that were the "first Temples," rather than teach
them that any place that was indeed a "house of God"
could be a "fearful place." Her life here — filled with
the quiet routine of work and service, gave a blessed
denial to the graven words and preached ever the
gospel of love. George Eliot tells us "There are some
natures in which we are conscious of having a sort of
baptism and consecration ; they bind us over to recti-
tude and purity by their fast belief about us, and our
sins become the worst kind of sacrilege, which tears
down the invisible altars of trust." This was Mother
Bickerdyke's nature. She held one to the right and
made it seem impossible to shirk a known duty.

She has gone from us now but her spirit is still
with us, still holding us to the "mountain road" of
life and endeavor. In her going, though there was
everything to miss, there was nothing to mourn for,
for she had long outlived the allotted "three score and
ten" and was ripe for eternity. Though her son was
left lonely and bereft it was only for a little time. The
tie between them was too strong to be broken and
she drew him to her by all the power of love and
memory, and we think of them now as sharing again
the same home, united and happy, and still serving



"Kind messages, that pass from land to land,
Kind letters, that betray the heart's deep history,
In which we feel the pressure of a hand. ' '

How often we exclaim with "Ik Marvel," "Blessed
be letters!" those dear messengers that, coming warm
and throbbing from the hearts of friends, find glad
response in our hearts, and so help us to be cheerful
travelers upon the way of life.

Mother Bickerdyke had this help in fullest measure.
I have spent several memorable days in looking over
great files of letters written to her by her soldier boys
— by their wives and mothers, and the great multitude
of people to whom she had endeared herself through
her services and her care. What letters they are !
How they thrill and glow with love and gratitude !
What glimpses they give of home and life there —
what heart histories they reveal ! I knew the old sol-
diers loved her dearly, but I could not dream how
dearly, nor imagine such wealth of tender reverence,
such depths of gratitude as these old letters, written
long years after the close of the war, reveal. The
soldiers have become farmers, doctors, lawyers, mer-
chants, ministers, authors and teachers. They fill all
the peaceful places of life, and are engaged in all its
pleasant pursuits. They are wise and dignified and
famous. Many of them have climbed high up on the
ladder of life and are known "among the elders," re-
nowned and eminent, and yet here they are boys
again, gathering gladly about the dear mother's knee ;
here thev one and all sign themselves "your loving
soldier boy," and beg her not to forget them. They
tell again to her some laughable incident of army life ;


they seek to recall themselves each one individually to
her mind by writing of some special kindness or favor
on her part; of things droll and things pathetic that
they hope may have staid in her mind as they have
in theirs through the changeful years since they were
mustered out. One asks her, "Don't you remember
coming into the ward one day and finding a forlorn-
looking new patient there? You asked me (for I was
the one) was there anything in particular I craved?
And I said, 'Yes, I want an onion.' You got it for
me. I shall never forget how good it tasted or cease
to be grateful to you for it." The giving of an onion
may be less romantic than the giving of roses, but if
it was what the sick fancy craved, it was better than
roses then. One, a college professor, tells her of how
he tried to teach lessons of patriotism by telling his
students of the work she did and how eagerly they
listened to him. He sends her his photo, asking her
to put it among the photos of her many boys and
"think of it as being sent by one who loves you next
to his own mother. Bless your dear mother-heart," he
adds, "how I wish I could look upon your blessed face
once more." Many others, like this man, send her
photos and beg for pictures of her, or they tell her
of how one already hangs in the hall of the "G. A. R.
Post" and how they all love it. They tell her of their
marriages, their home life, their wives and children,
and often the wives write, too, to thank her for their
home and happiness, for "John," "Harry," "Will" (or
whatever the name of the husband may be), "tells me
you saved his life," and "but for you," as one writes,
"I should be a lonely old maid today instead of being
the happy wife and mother I now am." One of the
"old boys" writes: "My little boys ask me why I
have two mothers and want to know if 'Mother Bick-
erdyke' is their grandma? If she is, why doesn't she
come to see us?" He also says: "There are quite a
number of your boys here, and when I told them I
was going to write to you they all said 'Give mother
our love and best wishes, and God bless her.' " An-
other writes: "I always thought you did more good


than any other woman in the army, and you have a
host of warm friends among the soldier boys." This
man is "a direct descendant of John Rogers, the
martyr burned at the stake," and of Mrs. Hannah
Dusten, "who killed so many Indians in the troublous
times in Massachusetts' early history," and truly the
martial spirit must have staid in the family, for he
tells her "when the war broke out there were six
brothers ; five of us enlisted in the United States army
and the other enlisted in the Kansas state service and
helped to repel Quantrell." What a rich offering this
father and rriother laid upon the altar of their country
— six noble sons ! It would be interesting to know how
many of them lived to return to them, but of this, he
does not tell us. One says, "I often think, dear
mother, that there must be a glorious crown awaiting
you in the next world ; certainly if the prayers of the
soldiers you have nursed, and the widows and orphans
you have helped, can avail, I am sure there is."

They call her the "soldier's best friend," "the best
general in the field," "the grandest woman in Amer-
ica," and even "a God-mother." They say "she has
a heart as big as an army mule team," a "will that
would not let one boy die that it was possible to
save," and make such love to her as is seldom made
to a woman ; give her such praise as is seldom given
to mortal being. .She is "our mother," "our noble,
precious mother,'' to them all, and a great rain of
blessings follow her, while a great longing to see
her, "to look upon that beautiful, gracious face once
more" fills many a brave heart. They speak of the
meeting in "the beyond," of the "campfires" there, and
what it will be to have her with them, going in and
out among them with words of greeting and of love,
even as she did in the old days, and these dear hopes
help them to bear the separation from her here.

A W. R. C. woman writes to tell her how "at one
G. A. R. meeting a comrade came to me and wanted
to know when T had seen you. He said 'tell me all
you can about dear old Mother Bickerdyke; how she
looks, how she seems, and if she appears very old.


She saved my life; she will not remember me by
name, but ask her if she remembers the poor little
pale-faced boy-soldier she used to carry in her arms
in the hospital at Memphis and called her "baby." I
would go any distance to see her again — blessed old
Mother Bickerdyke.' "

One old soldier, who was a prisoner and suffered
so fearfully during the war that twenty years after
its close he was still "unable to do any hard work," as
lie tells her, says: "I have attended several reunions
and campfires lately. When the boys know I have
seen you I am doubly welcome. Many times their
lips tremble and the tears start when your name is
mentioned. Dear old mother! the boys never forget
the tender care and loving words of twenty years
ago that come sweeping over our hearts in memory
as we gather around the campfires of today."

Another writes to tell her how one of the old gen-
erals at a convention "tried to tell the boys about you ■
and what you did for his men, but he broke down
utterly at the memory of it all, as did many of those
there, and there were more tears shed than words
spoken, for we love you now, Mother Bickerdye, just
as we loved you in the old days, and the tears that
bedewed our cheeks were no reproach to our man-

Here among the letters I find several from Rev.
Jenkin Lloyd Jones. His, like the others, are full of
love and gratitude, and he, too, signs' himself "Your
loving soldier boy."

A Wisconsin comrade tells of attending a camp-
fire or reunion at which Mr. Jones told them of her
care and "blessed abusiveness" of him and how it
helped to save his life. And how the great audience
cheered. One, who signs himself, "Your Wild Irish
Boy," tells how he dreamed that he and another com-
rade "bought her a beautiful house surrounded
by a great lawn that was filled with great
trees and beautiful flowers, and "when we gave
you the deed you were so happy." The dream goes
on until they sat down to supper, the three together.


"One of your old-time meals," he says, "with no frills
or highfalutin' language," but just a "jolly good time
all around, and I awoke calling for you — and you did
not come." And so they wrote her — from all over
the country — all so solicitous for her welfare, so anx-
ious to know that she is well and happy and has no
lack of comforts. Not one among them but would
gladly share his. home with her if need be and give
from his poverty or his wealth, as the case might be,
for her maintenance. Oh, it is beautiful and good,
this outpouring of love, this inexpressible gratitude
for the "soldier's mother!" How precious, how in-
spiring these letters must have been to her, and what
answers she must have written to them; for, bearing
eloquent witness to her love and the goodness of her
heart, as well as to her careful ways, "Answered" is
written across each one of these many, many letters.
Beautiful, heart-satisfying letters — the ripe fruit of the
seeds she sowed so many years ago. She "cast her
bread upon the waters" and it returned to her in mani-
fold measure of increase and blessing. She sent her
great soul in love out over the mighty deep of human
life and these are the olive branches returned for her
cheer and comfort. .She, "passing through the valley
of Baca, made of it a well," whose waters refreshed
not alone her own heart, but the hearts of all around
her. No greater truth was ever uttered than that,
"As ye sow so shall ye also reap." She sowed good
deeds and they bore their legitimate fruit of love.
How it should teach us to live ever by the simple but
grand rule of doing as we would be done by. We
speak of life as being complex and mysterious, and
so it is in many of its phases, but at the heart of it all
is simplicity — the simplicity of truth. The little child,
looking into your face in confidence and expecting
nothing but good, is your true philosopher. To it life
means only being good and being loved. This child-
like philosophy lay always in Mother Bickerdyke's
heart and was expressed in her daily life. Her love
was expressed naturally and easily in actions rather
than in words. I never heard her say, "I love you,"


to anyone, but I saw it said often in what she did.
She won a large place in the hearts and lives of others,
but she did it unconsciously and while in the perform-
ance of her daily duty — for love's sake.

I have spoken of Mother Bickerdyke's love of pets
that, beginning away back in her babyhood days,
stayed with her to the end of her life here, as is proved
by a letter I have just received from a lady who lived
very near her all the last years of her life and knew
her intimately. She says :

Mother Bickerdyke owned two pet geese and a large black
cat that received considerable of her attention. She named
the cat ' ' General Logan. ' ' It was an exceedingly smart
oat, and not seeing her, would wander through the rooms of
the house in search of her. She spent much time talking to
it and nursing it. General Logan sat by her side in a chair
at the table during meal times and accompanied her in her
walks. When she died this cat mourned her loss and seemed
restless and as if it could not understand what had become
of its mistress.

Her pet geese were given to her by a friend. They fol-
lowed her in and out of the kitchen, ate from her hand
and would frequently fight the cat when around Mother
Bickerdyke as if they were jealous of the attention it re-
ceived from her. These geese were three years old at the
time of her death. Her son, Prof. Bickerdyke, kept and
cared for them after she was gone, and when, three years
later, he, too, died, they were sent to the one remaining son,
Hiram Bickerdyke, in Montana, who says they shall be the
pride of his ranch and shall be privileged to live on his irri-
gating dams and do as they please.

These things are not much of themselves, but as an
index to her character, showing how great was the
depth of her love and tenderness towards all created
things, they are important and worthy of record.

Another pleasant incident I would tell you, though
it has no connection with the above : Among the many
of Mother Bickerdyke's letters that were sent me I
found this little note, written in the feeble, trembling
hand of age. It was found pinned to a package of
sheets and pillow cases sent to the Mother Bickerdyke
Home : "These articles were made by an old lady
seventy-nine years old. She has been reading Mother
Bickerdyke's book and is a great admirer of the dear


old lady, and is much interested in her work. She re-
quests that these sheets and pillow cases he used for
Mother Bickerdyke, especially, in the Home."

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13

Online LibraryFlorence Shaw KelloggMother Bickerdyke as I knew her → online text (page 10 of 13)