The Blur Of The West
My buddy Jimmy and I grew up in the area around Nashville, Tennessee. Jimmy had a father somewhere, but I could not remember ever having either a father, or a mother in my life. Jimmy’s dad was a drunk, and spent most of his time sweeping out saloons to acquire enough funds for another night of drinking. Jimmy and I slept at the ramshackle cabin that his Dad owned, but for the most part we were street urchins, stealing and begging for food to survive.
So, when we were 15, Jimmy and I ran off to join the Pony Express. Of course, they didn’t want us as riders, but for a while we managed to hold down jobs feeding and exercising the horses. The most important part of our job was having a fresh horse saddled and ready to go as soon as the rider reached the stop.
While we never got to be riders before the service disbanded, we learned a whole lot about the West. After we left the stage stop in Ogallala Nebraska, Jimmy and I headed west with a wagon train of settlers heading for Sacramento. At this time a trip to California took about 6 months, and cost the settler around $1,000.00, a princely sum for the time, but Jimmy and I were allowed to ride along for free, as long as we were willing to act as scouts.
Jimmy and I looked around California, and we decided that being scouts for the wagon trains would be a good way to earn money. We had watched the other scouts, and all they seemed to do was ride ahead of the wagon train, and look around for potential pitfalls, as we had done. Saint Louis Mo. was the jumping off point for most of the wagon trains, as the railroads ended there at this time, so we headed for St Louis.
Just before we got to St Louis, Jimmy had been kidding me about the fact that he could see things off in the distance a whole lot better than I could. While I didn’t want to admit it, he was right. So, I decided that I would go to an oculist, to see if a pair of glasses would make a difference. Boy did they ever. I put a pair of glasses on for the first time, and it was like the whole world got bigger. Colors were brighter, trees had leaves, and I could see things in the distance that I never before could see. I worried a little bit that people would not hire me as a scout, because wearing glasses had a little bit of a stigma to it. But, Jimmy and I came together as a pair, and no one really ever seemed to say anything about the fact that I wore glasses.
The first couple of years we managed to guide 2 wagon trains to California successfully. We had decided to make the southern route our specialty, as the path seemed a bit easier to us, and after the Donner party perished in California that year, many of the people heading west wanted no part of the northern route. I again visited the same oculist who had provided me with my first pair of glasses, and I got a new pair, with lenses that were quite a bit more powerful. Now my glasses looked a little stronger than the glasses that most other people had to wear. I merely put them on my face, and wore them like I had worn the first pair, pleased to have my vision clear again.
For the next few years it seemed that the first thing I would do on my return to St Louis would be to head for my oculist for a new pair of glasses. We had lead 10 parties to the West, so it had been over 10 years since I had gotten my first pair of glasses. When I got my new pair that year, I noticed that instead of a flat front on the lenses, the front of my glasses were now dished in a little bit. So, I asked my oculist about it, and he told me that I was now requiring glasses with a power of around –15D. He suspected from my steady increases that I might be suffering from something called progressive myopia.
Since it was imperative that I had a spare pair of glasses with me, and since I seemed to increase about –1D every year, this time my oculist suggested that he supply me with a second pair that was just a little bit stronger than the pair he prescribed me. So, that year I headed off to the west with a stronger pair of lenses in my spare glasses. I had been given instructions not to wear the stronger glasses until my vision began to get fuzzy, and I suppose I lasted a month or better before I was curious enough to wear these glasses. From the time I put the second pair of glasses on, I was destined to wear them all the time. Everything was just that much clearer. And the following year, when I presented myself for the annual exam, it was discovered that my eyes had increased by still another whole diopter. This time my oculist made me another 2 pairs of glasses, again with instructions not to wear the pair with the stronger lenses until I felt I really needed them. In less than 6 months I was wearing the strongest pair.
I think this was the year that I overheard a little girl in the wagon train asking her mother how I could possibly see well enough to be a proper scout for the wagon train wearing such thick glasses, and I knew that my time as a scout would soon be over. This time when I ended up back in St Louis, I had my friendly oculist make me 4 pairs of glasses. Each pair was –0.50D stronger, and the strongest pair was now –22D. I asked him when my progression would end; as I was most afraid of becoming so myopic I was blind. He assured me that I still had a way to go before I was –30D, which was the strongest pair he had ever prescribed.
Just as I was leaving my friend asked me if I was going west with another wagon train, and when I told him I was, he went back to the back room and brought out a wooden glasses box, which he opened. Inside was a ladies pair of glasses. The lenses were dished in on both sides like mine were, but the backside had what appeared to be little circles in the lenses.
"These are a pair of –30D myodiscs. I made them as a second pair for a lady who left on the last wagon train 2 months ago. They were not ready on time, and I was instructed to send them on to California when she told me where to ship them. But, I think that you might be able to get them there faster for her. Can you do me a great favor, and look this woman up. If you telegraph me your address, I will then telegraph you hers when I get it from her." He said.
I agreed to do this for him, and I left the following day with the last wagon train I was going to scout for. The transcontinental railroad was going to be finished very soon, and there would no longer be any need for scouts.
After an uneventful trip through the badlands, and across the Arizona desert, we crossed the Colorado River just north of Parker, at a shallow spot in the river. There was a cable ferry running here, and we made the crossing without incident. Now we were in California, although we still had many miles of high desert to cross. Just before we came to Morongo Canyon we spotted signs that there had been a large number of Indians in the area, and as we came down into the canyon, we found the remnants of a burned out wagon train. We buried the bodies as well as we could, and were just about ready to leave when a young girl of about 6 years of age came out from behind the rocks, leading a disheveled older lady by the hand. I could tell that the older lady was having a hard time walking, almost as I would, if I was trying to go about without my glasses. Even though the little girl was guiding her, she seemed to stumble on every rock and outcropping.
The lady and her daughter, a very pretty little girl who wore glasses that seemed to be about as strong as the second pair I had worn were the only members of the wagon train who had escaped. They had been up in the rocks when the Indians had attacked, and had the presence of mind to stay there. But, the little girl told us that her mommy had broken her glasses, and was blind without them.
Bu chance I had packed all my belongings, as I was not going to return to St Louis. I had a few old pairs of glasses, so I offered to see if I had a pair that the lady could use. I started off with one pair, and they were pronounced too weak. I tried another 4 or 5 pairs, all the way up to the pair I had been wearing before I got my newest pair. The result was the same – Better, but still too weak. Then I got out my new pair of –22D glasses. With them she could almost see.
No, it couldn’t be I thought. " Is your name Martha Worthington?" I asked the lady.
"Yes, it is. How did you know?" Martha replied.
"I have your new glasses. My friend Robert, who was also your oculist, asked me to deliver them to you once you sent him your address." I said.
"That is amazing that you should have found me. But I am so grateful. My eyesight is simply awful, and I was wondering how I was going to manage until I was able to get my new glasses from Robert." Martha said.
I got her glasses from my pack, and she placed them on her face. Her eyes lit up with delight at being able to see again.
"You are a lifesaver!" Martha exclaimed.
When we arrived in Los Angeles Martha, and Mary her daughter had come to terms with the death of her husband and son. I was captivated by Martha’s beauty, and I was also intrigued to have found someone who had worse eyesight than I did. So after a respectable period of mourning for her departed husband, followed by a few months of courting, Martha and I were married. We have now been married for 6 years, and we have 3 other children. Seth is 5, and has worn glasses now for 3 years. Marsha is a year and a half younger, and has just gotten her glasses. Lizzie the baby is not wearing glasses yet, but I am confident that the family myopia will be passed on to her as well. And Mary, who is now 14, has recently had a couple of healthy jumps in her prescription and is now wearing glasses with a prescription of around –12D. Fortunately, I managed to end my progression with the –22D glasses that Robert had made for me, and I have not required any further increases. Martha is still wearing her –30D glasses, and while she has trouble seeing many things well, she is at least able to function wearing her glasses.