Cynthia Ann Parker, life of a pioneer woman
Pioneer stories usually follow similar patterns. A rugged man blazes a trail, challenges nature or bravely protects his family against all sorts of evil dangers.
You may have heard about Jesse Applegate of Applegate Trail fame, but what do you know of Cynthia?
Cynthia Ann Parker was born Aug. 15, 1813, near the shore of the Cumberland River in northern Tennessee. The river was a major commercial highway for riverboats running to and from the Ohio and Missouri rivers to the west.
Cynthia’s father, Jeremiah, was a flatboatman, navigating the rivers and carrying freight and passengers in a large, raft-like boat with a flat bottom, short sidewalls, and occasionally a small shelter or cabin.
Cynthia was the fourth child and only girl of the five Parker children. Her mother, Sallie Ann Yauhnt, had emigrated from Holland with her parents.
When Cynthia was 7, her mother died. Her father kept his three oldest sons with him and gave Cynthia and her younger brother, William, to her mother’s brother, John Yauhnt. John took them to live in Missouri.
There were few schools and there wasn’t much chance for a young girl to get an education. Cynthia learned to do the cooking, weaving and other household chores expected of women. As she grew older she began doing these chores for other women, earning enough money to survive.
Mrs. English was one of her favorites. She treated Cynthia like her own daughter. One afternoon in late 1830, Mrs. English invited Cynthia to a log-rolling bee, a common tradition for early pioneers. The neighbors came with their ox teams to haul logs that had been felled earlier in the year, and rolled them into stacked heaps, accomplishing a task that a single person or family could never do. Once work was done, the festivities began.
Here, Cynthia, just days short of her 18th birthday, met Jesse Applegate, a 19-year-old surveyor. A few months later, March 13, 1831, they married. They lived in St. Louis, where Jesse was an assistant in the Surveyor-General’s office.
A year later, they were off to the lush forests of western Missouri, settling on land along the Osage River. They camped there with their first child, while Cynthia helped Jesse build a cabin. She was likely pregnant at the time. This was the family home for the next 12 years, and the next six children. It was also where their third child, William Milburn, was born, and died when he was 3.
Their second child, 10-year-old Edward, would die in 1843, drowning in the Columbia River after the family had already walked 2,000 miles west over the Oregon Trail.
They settled west of Salem where Jesse worked as a surveyor and, in 1845, was elected to the Provisional Government of Oregon.
In the summer of 1849, Jesse and Cynthia claimed land in the Umpqua Valley, the second family to live in the area.
During these years, Jesse was often away from home on business or expeditions, including mapping the Applegate Trail. This left Cynthia alone to care for the family. She worked hard, cooking, making clothes for the family, taking care of the animals and crops, and selling butter, vegetables, cheese and meat to passing miners and other travelers.
There was rarely a moment of rest, except for when Jesse or one of the children would read to her. She loved history and her Bible, welcoming all faiths into her home.
Mother of 12 children, loving wife Cynthia died June 1, 1882, in their home at the side of Mount Yoncalla.
Hers was the hard life every pioneer woman knew. It’s doubtful that Cynthia would have had it any other way.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.