Guest Commentary / January 21, 2022

It’s a Growing Thing

“You are not Maggy. Your true name is Magdalene. Go home to your parents. You will be thankful.”

By Douglas Daugherty

At 17 years of age, Maggy stared at the far Mount Glen as the sunset first turned pink and dusk began. She thought, “That’s my life.” She was dressed in a faded pink cotton dress with washed-out tiny white flowers. Her shoulder-length hair was black but curled, around her sugary brown face with chestnut brown eyes and a perfect but somewhat snub-nose. She was a slight, pretty girl.

There was a chill in the night air.

Just outside of Tombstone in the Arizona Territory in 1889, Maggy was almost “growed,” she thought to herself. She would soon be 18, the oldest of nine children, two of whom had died young — Trenton at two from a snake bite, “Blond Bill” at four from yellow fever.

She was tired of the hard life. It was a growing thing. Life was rough in this part of the world, she had heard. Wouldn’t been much here if'n they hadn’t discovered the silver. Her Paw, Marish Stead, had come to this seemingly godforsaken place about 20 years ago as a tall, thin Methodist preacher. Silver had been discovered in 1858. Later the Goodenough, Contention, Toughnut, and Grand Central mines thrived. Times could be hard in a boom-and-bust town like Tombstone. Over 100 saloons, she’d been told. And “Oh,” she thought, “I’ve seen plenty of churches … but never been inside a saloon.”

Her Mom, Galilahi — Paw called her Gal for short — was a full-blooded Chiricahua, from the family of the great warrior chief Cochise. Her bare feet felt the dust beneath them as she thought of her parents’ courtship. Paw had been about 24 when he married Galilahi, who was 18. The Stead family were all growing in a small faded yellow house with white shutters, working hard for everything, praying like it was their only hope. But they had scraped by.

Paw had lost an arm, blown halfway off by a shotgun blast from a drunken cowboy who was furious that anybody from Arizona couldn’t support the Southern states during the American Civil War.

It helped when Grandpa Stead had come west after them for the silver. He lived next to the barn in a small house he had built. And, oh, the visit from Costuni, her Mom’s Pa, though infrequent, made the whole world brighter. He would tell her of the ways of the desert, the mountains, and the lake as they sat under the moon at night. He would say, “The earth and water and all things speak to me.” It would always stir a wand'rin in her. She wanted something to speak to her, but what would they say? She also wanted to go … but where? There had to be a better life away from the Arizona desolation. Perhaps she could, like Ma, find a husband. That thought stirred her, too. “It was a grow'n thang,” she thought.

But tomorrow it would be different. For once her Pa was letting her go with some of the older girls to a concert of sorts at Schieffelin Hall. Perhaps Ma would have that new dress made by then, she thought as she walked slowly home as the moon started to rise. “Maybe,” she said out loud, “Maybe.”

The next day began as usual, chores and taking care of smaller siblings. Pa was working on his “Sunday Speaking,” he called it, for the tiny church in the woods by Lake Cochise. It was hard doing the farm work with one arm. He and Ma always seemed to get by with the older children’s help.

That afternoon, Galilahi had finished Maggy’s new dress. It was a stunner. The white cotton dress was fuller, pulled tighter to her waist, with short sleeves with lace. Ma had a broad, blue ribbon that caught the light and pulled around her waist. Pa saw her swirling around and sort of looked perplexed. “You’re a woman now,” he exclaimed, a bit in awe. (His mind filled with what it was like to be suddenly all grown in body but still growing in mind.) “We’ll be praying for you tonight.” “And remember your manners,” said Gal.

Late in the afternoon, Grandpa Stead drove her to town on the buckboard. She didn’t get to Tombstone much, but, oh, there was a concert tonight! Turns out it was two men, Gilbert and Sullivan, who had written something called H.M.S. Pinafore. She met five older girls at the Schieffelin: Rose, Hannah, Sally, Hurrah (or so they called her), and Bath. She quickly climbed down from the wagon onto the dirt street and ran to meet them with a smile. Looking quickly back over her shoulder, she said, “Thank you, Grandpa. See you in the morning.” She would stay the night with Hurrah and Bath, twin sisters, not yet married but working in town.

The opera was not like anything she had ever witnessed. The music was bright and happy. The sets had pictures of sailing ships far away. It was funny, too. What a different world, she thought.

When the concert was over, Hurrah suggested they go hear some more music at The Bird Cage Theater. Little did she know what was before her.

The Bird Cage, it turned out, was full of men and women dressed in dresses off the shoulder. Her Pa would have preached a sermon, she thought. All eyes followed the pretty six as they found a table. “Let’s get a drink,” exclaimed Bath, flush with the previous concert. “We need to celebrate!” Maggy had never had a drink of alcohol. “Why, I don’t know,” said Maggy. “What would I get?” She settled for a glass of hard cider. The other girls ordered beer, and Bath ordered rye.

The drinks and talk were fun. She felt a bit lightheaded as she sipped her cider. Some cowhands came to the table. “You girls look mighty pretty,” one said. They surrounded the table and there seemed to be keen interest in their every comment.

One handsome, dark cowboy, with thick chestnut hair, stood looking at Maggy. “Girl,” he said, “you’re pretty as a picture. My name’s Dusky. What’s your'n?”

“Mag,” she said. He came her way.

“What you drinkin?” he asked.

“Cider,” she said.

“Cider!” He laughed. “You look all growed up to me! Let me get you something more fit'n.” He came back to the table with two glasses. His was a dark liquid; she guessed it was whiskey. He handed her a glass. “Try this. It’s bourbon, smooth as Tennessee whiskey,” he said with a winning smile. “Perfect drink for a beautiful woman like you.”

The first sip burned, and she coughed. “Oh,” she said, “this is different,” as a warm feeling coursed through her body. “I think I like it,” she said. For the rest of the night, Dusky paid attention to no one but Mag. She had never had a grown man pay so much attention to her. She seemed to be drifting further away with each sip. Another glass followed. “You know, Mag,” Dusky said. “I like you. I’d like to know you better. How’d you like to step outside and talk? I’ll bring the bottle.” Lightheaded Mag’s head was swirling. She was flattered. “My, it’s a grow'n thang,” she thought.

Once they went outside, Dusky put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. She hardly noticed his whiskey breath as he whispered, “Mag, you’re so beautiful to me, I can’t stand it.” Another drink. He talked about the wild prairie and his world of horses and cattle. She just listened, entranced that such a handsome man was taken with her. “Mag, girl, I think I love you. I can give you things and take you places you’ve never seen,” he slurred. Mag was smitten and drunk. Maggy was a different person. This is what she was looking for, she thought.

That night, Mag and Dusky disappeared from the Bird Cage. She was not sure what happened after that.

The next morning, head in hand, she met Grandpa with the buckboard near the Schieffelin. “Maggy, you okay? You look a little worse for the wear.” She first noticed her new dress had a tear in the sleeve. “Oh, I’m fit, Grandpa. Just a big, wonderful night for a girl from the prairie.”

Life on the surface returned to normal at home, but underneath, Maggy could only think of Dusky, the music, and the laughing. She wanted to see Dusky again. She couldn’t tell Pa or Ma. Dusky, she thought, was probably not a church-going man.

It was spring 1890. The Arizona Territory near Tombstone was alive with desert primrose, Mexican gold poppies, and purple mounds of Verbenas.

It had been about three or four weeks since she had seen Dusky. She couldn’t stop thinking about him, but something had changed. As the weeks marched on, her mom first noticed it. “Maggy, you seem to have lost your appetite. You sure you’re feeling fit?” Maggy didn’t know what to say. “Don’t know, Ma, just ain’t hungry.” Maggy thought that maybe it was love. She was new to this thing. Sort of like being reborn. It was a growing thing.

Maggy found herself feeling sick in the mornings. She would gag and vomit. At first, she hid this. But not for long. Pa came to her one morning as she lay in bed. “Maggy, I need to ask you something. Your Ma thinks you’re pregnant. Are you?” Marish Stead had never been one to beat around the bush. He was direct. He was firm. But he had his woundedness to deal with.

“Pa,” Maggy replied after a longer than usual pause, “I don’t know.” He looked into her eyes from the edge of the bed. “Honey, what happened in Tombstone?”

“Oh, Pa,” she exclaimed with a pitiable cry. She told him all that she remembered, concluding with: “My new dress got torn. But Dusky told me how beautiful I was and that he loved me and … I just don’t know.” Galilahi had entered the room and heard the last part. “Gal,” Marish said, “we need to go into Tombstone and find this Dusky fella.”

The long buckboard ride to Tombstone brought them there in the late afternoon. The town was alive with the remnants of miners and cowhands. Pa went to see the sheriff. He knew everybody and was a helping body. “Good man,” thought Pa.

“Oh, Dusky? That’s Dusky Allston,” Sheriff Clay Hollister replied to Pa after he asked if he knew where he might find him. “I just made my rounds. I think I saw him in the Oriental. That’s a saloon a bit down Silver Street. Uh, Marish you got problems, this Dusky ain’t your kind of folk.”

“Thank you, Clay. We just want to talk to him.”

As they drove to Silver Street, the saloons and brothels filled the sidewalks with rough looking, dirty men and immodest, hard women. When they pulled up in front of the Oriental sign, Maggy peered inside. She saw him. Dusky. He had his arm around some older woman, painted and hair pulled back. They were laughing.

“Oh, Pa. No. He’s with another woman. This can’t be happening.” She sobbed into her dress. “That him over there by the bar.

"Brown hair, with the brown hat and leather vest?”

“Yes, Pa, that’s him.” Maggy sobbed.

“I got to talk to him, Gal. You stay here with Maggy.” The preacher had never been in a brothel/saloon before. His stomach tightened. But he knew what was right and what had to be done.

Gal waited with Maggy, holding her hand. “Let’s pray, child.”

They heard a roar of laughter from the Oriental. Pa came out with Dusky. “You know this girl of mine?”

“Sure, I do. Hey, Mag.” He laughed. “Your Pa tells me you’re having a baby and I’m the father. What’d you tell him that for? I ain’t the marrying kind. You got no baby as far as I’m concerned.” Mag was rocked to her bones. Maggy was horrified. “But, Dusky…” She exhaled. “Sorry, Preacher,” said Dusky. “You got the wrong man for this round up.” He turned to go back into the saloon. A small crowd had gathered at the door watching and listening. “Wait a minute,” said Marish, in a firm voice. Dusky stopped and turned. “You a man or something else? If'n my girl is with child from you, you ain’t just walk'n away.” Dusky looked at the tall, thin, one-armed preacher up and down, then at Galilahi, then at a tearful Mag. “Aren’t I?” asserted Dusky. “You gonna stop me? Good to see you, Mag.” He tipped his hat and walked back into the brothel/saloon. He was met with loud hurrahs.

Pa just stared after him, then looked at his one hand. “My God,” he breathed, and turned and walked to the buckboard.

On the way home, it was quiet at first, except for the sound of Maggy sniffling. About halfway home the sun was beginning to set. “Gal, we gotta do something.”

“I know, Pa. I been praying for all four of us.” Maggy looked up from her tears at that. “Four of us?” she said quietly.

“Yeh,” said Pa, “I been pray'n. It’s untimely, and we got to do something, but it is a gift.”

“A gift,” Maggy exclaimed. “I don’t want it!” and burst into tears anew. It was a growing thang.

That night, somehow, Grandpa Costuni showed up. Right behind him came Grandpa Stead. “Oh, grandpas,” exclaimed Maggy and ran into both of their waiting arms. “You my granddaughter,” said Costuni in his deer skin pants and coat. “That’s right,” said Grandpa Stead in his worn overalls. “You’re family. We’ll fix it.”

That night, Costuni invited Maggy to pack a grip and come stay at the reservation with him for a while. “It will be good,” he said. Maggy loved Costuni. She stared at her abdomen. She stared at the ceiling. After a few minutes, she answered back with a new sort of determination. “I’m 18 now. I do want to go with you and think on this grow'n thing.”

Costuni borrowed a horse and he and Maggy set out for the Chiricahua reservation. The Steads watched her ride off in the darkness.

The next evening, Costuni took Maggy for a walk. They didn’t talk about her or the baby. He just told her the names of the trees and sky. “This is brother tree,” he said to Maggy, pointing to the towering ponderosa pine. “He has seen many summers. And that,” he said pointing to a brown hawk circling high above, “is brother hawk. The forest is alive. Even the ground we walk on is alive. If you listen, the huge rocks surrounding us will talk to you. They are all filled with a great spirit.” Maggy was in awe. She had always loved the forest. But she was not sure what Pa would think about the “Great Spirit.” As she felt her own tightening dress, she thought everything did feel so alive. Life seemed to be everywhere … even in her womb. It’s a growing thing!

The next day, as Costuni left to hunt, a strange Chiricahua woman, dressed in a dark animal hide, a woman she had never seen before, came to see her. Her hair was dark and matted. Some feathers hung from her hair like fern leaves. She wore a necklace strung with bits of bone. “My name is Vishwani. I am a medicine woman. I have come to help you. I know you are with child and troubled. Do you want this baby?”

Maggy stared at the dark, greasy-looking face. Her eyes seemed to dance. “I — I don’t know. I’m only 18 and have no man. What’s there to be done?”

“I have a way,” said Vishwani, “but you must tell no one. It is forbidden medicine. It will make the baby go away. It is not much now. You won’t be hurt, and your life can grow the way you are hoping for. You are wanting a life with more, aren’t you?”

“Tell me about the medicine,” Maggy asked. “What’s it like?”

They talked for a few more minutes, and Maggy had a growing awareness that there may be a different way for her to go. She would think hard about this. It would be a growing thing. “But don’t tell your fathers about this,” Vishwani said. “We must keep it hidden.” And she slid out of the lodge.

Costuni did not come back that night. He returned to the home of his daughter and the God-man. They talked. Grandpa Stead was there. He said, “I’ve got the answer,” and he held up a double barreled 20-gauge shotgun. “Ah,” said Costuni.

“I don’t know,” said Marish, “I can’t hold a heavy rifle and shoot.”

That night, the strangest assembly to ever come to Tombstone went to the Oriental Saloon. Pa led the way; Costuni and Grandpa Stead were behind him at his shoulders.

“Dusky!” called Marish. “We want to see you.” Maggy was about halfway through her pregnancy. A half-drunk Dusky Allston turned around quickly. “What do you want?” he asked. The whole saloon had grown quiet. A preacher, an Indian in buckskins, and an old man with a gray beard in overalls stood facing him. “You’re going to marry Maggy … tonight!”

“What?” Allston questioned. “Are you crazy? I ain’t marrying no one-nighter.”

“Yes, you will.” Costuni stepped out with the loaded shotgun. You could hear the sound as he cocked both barrels. “You come now.”

Dusky lunged toward the gun, brushing it aside, pulling his own pistol. Costuni pulled both triggers. It hit Dusky in the thigh and groin. It was full of birdshot. He staggered to the ground. Grandpa Stead came forward and stomped on his gun hand. ‘You’re gonna marry my granddaughter, or the next shot will blow your head clean off!“ Costuni reloaded with a loud, decisive click.

"Okay. Okay.” said Dusky. “But I ain’t the man for her. I ain’t much. Get me to the doc before I bleed to death.”

They stood outside the small office, waiting as the doctor fished pellets out of Dusky’s groin and thigh.

The doctor came out. “You the man that shot Allston? You may want to getta mov'n. He hopped out the back window like a scalded dog. Ha. Kind of funny. He ain’t gonna father any more children … ever.”

They searched the town for him, but he was gone. Long gone. Worse for the wear and riding a fast horse. Dusky was out of the picture.

That night, as Maggy stared at the stars, she realized something. The baby was moving. She felt a strange warmth come over her that she could not control. “What is that?” she thought. “My thoughts ain’t for the baby after talking to that old woman.” But something was happening inside her body that made her wonder about the decision. Could she do it? Should she do it? Did she have to do it? But she couldn’t visualize the future. She couldn’t see it. It was a growing thing.

The next day, a middle-aged couple, Mary and Res Cooper, came to the house. Pa knew them. They came to his tiny church set back in the trees. “We’d like to talk to Maggy. We heard about your problem, and we think we have a solution.” It seems the Coopers couldn’t have children. They had always yearned for at least one. “If Maggy doesn’t want to keep the baby, we would like…” Mary interrupted. “No, we would LOVE to have the baby.” She welled up with tears. “We’ll love that child like there’s no tomorrow.”

Ma and Pa Tread were overwhelmed. Pa couldn’t see how he could stay in the ministry. He had failed somewhere. “Oh, God, have mercy,” he prayed desperately in his thoughts. They had been talking of sending Maggy away. He had six children to feed. All he could think to do seemed, at the moment, to not be much. Now this!

Maggy was sitting by the lake, staring at the water. “It’s a grow'n thang,” she thought. “I’m a chang'n.” She paused and said out loud, “Lord, you out there? Grandpa says there’s life everywhere. Now the baby’s kick'n. But there’s a way out with Vishwani. That be killing a living thing. Lord, can you hear me?”

Silence.

Silence.

Silence.

“Lord. I ain’t prayed right in a long time. What do you think?”

Sentences formed in her head. Your child has a name. You have a name. You are not Maggy. Your true name is Magdalene. I will tell you the true name of the child. Go home to your parents. You will be thankful. They have been praying for you and the child. So have others, and I have heard their prayers as well. They need you. Everybody will need you.

Maggy felt something like hope welling up. “Yes, I will go home.”

The next morning, she made her way home. As the horse slowly made his way, with each step she seemed to hear a growing song within her. “My mind must be playing tricks on me,” she thought. But it was so real. A small voice was, like, singing to her or talking in quiet tones.

I know you will love me. I do love you, the tiny voice seemed to tone. I can hear your voice. I feel your heartbeat. I have some more grow'n to do. I feel like your wait'n for me. We will be so close, the tiny voice seemed to say.

Her thoughts were filled with this imaginary conversation, almost like a song as she clopped towards home. It was a growing thing.

A strange buckboard was parked out front of the house. “Wonder what this is about?” she asked.

As she walked in the house, everyone was there: her siblings, her grandfathers, her Ma and Pa, and a couple she sort of recognized from church. “Maggy, this is the Coopers,” said Galilahi. “They want your baby.” She ran across the room and enfolded her daughter. “We’re sorry, honey, please forgive us for our thoughts. But your baby is wanted. They even have a name for the child.”

Maggy had the baby. It was a beautiful girl, a growing thing. The Coopers took her after she was weaned. They called her “Thankful.”

Maggy went on to become a midwife. She delivered over 2,516 babies across the Arizona Territory. She was the youngest midwife anyone could remember. She died shortly after the Territory became the 48th state in 1912.

When she was buried, this was chiseled on her tombstone:

Magdalene Elouise Tread
1862-1912
“It’s a growing thing.”

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