Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery's Frontier

By Lea Vandervelde | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Late Summer Harvest

ANOTHER COUPLE ASKED the agent to marry them in late July. The bride was the eldest daughter of a man named Perry, whose family members were early refugees from the failed utopian community founded by Lord Selkirk on the Red River in Canada, to the north and west.1 Ten years earlier, when the first refugees had arrived from the Red River, dragging their possessions across the plains, the fort commandant had taken pity on them and allowed them to build cabins and remain, even though the environs were supposed to be a military reserve. Over the intervening decade, a cluster of cabins had been built near the Coldwater Spring, a few miles from the fort. Old man Perry, Abraham Perry, who maintained a large herd of cattle, was regarded as a patriarchal figure in the settlement. His wife was useful as a skilled midwife.2

The occasion uniting Sophie Perry in marriage with an enterprising young man drew all the neighbors since there were few reasons for celebration in their hardworn lives.3 Before the ceremony concluded though, it was interrupted by a large contingent of uninvited guests. Arriving across the prairie were more than a hundred new refugees from the failing Selkirk community. They too had made their way from the Red River, across 700 miles of grass wilderness, to reach St. Peter’s Agency.4 Most were bound even further, for Indiana. This caravan of sunburned and blistered refugee men, women, and children, oxen and sometimes half-tamed buffalo drawing wooden carts, diverted the wedding guests’ attention. The Perrys and most of their neighbors had made the same trek with their children a decade earlier. They may even have recognized some of the sojourners. The wedding celebration, further enlivened by the new arrivals, turned into a reunion of kindred spirits, refugees from a similar western ideal. The night was marked by fiddle music, dancing, and large bonfires in the encampments to celebrate both a wedding and the wayfarers’ happy arrival at a place of civilization.5

It was late before the music finally ended. In the quiet of the night, the cattle and horses were skittish. Then there was a great commotion just outside the

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