The Last Match

butning match

An incident that illustrated the pioneer life of 1845-6 is told in the story of the “Last Match.”

In the winter of 1845-6 Orville S. Cox and two Whiting boys, cousins of Elvira, went from Pisgah with ox teams and wagons down into Missouri with a load of chairs to sell. Whiting’s had a shop in which they manufactured chairs. Being successful in disposing of their chairs, and securing loads of bacon and corn, they were almost home when an Iowa blizzard, or Hurricane, or cyclone, or all in one, struck them.

Clouds and “Egyptian darkness” settled suddenly around them. They had no modern “tornado cellars”, to flee into and no manner of shelter of any kind. The cold was intense; the wind came from every direction; they were all skilled backwoodsmen and knew they were very close to their homes; but they also knew that they were hopelessly lost in that swirling wind and those black clouds of snow. They and their oxen were freezing, and their only hope of life was in making a fire and camping where they were.

Everything was wet and under the snow, and an arctic wind in the fierceness of unclaimed violence was raging around them. At first, they unyoked the oxen that they might find some sort of shelter for themselves. Then with frostbitten fingers they sought in the darkness and storm for dry fuel. The best they found was damp and poor enough – and now for a match. Only three in the crowd, and no such matches as we have in these days either. Inside a large wooden bucket in which they fed grain, they carefully laid their kindling.

Then turning another bucket over it to keep out the falling snow, and hugging close over to keep the wind off, they lifted the top bucket a little and one of the Whiting boys struck a precious match. It flickered, blazed a moment against the kindling and was puffed out by a draft of wind. Another match was taken, and it died almost before it flared. Only one match remained to save three men from certain death.

Their fingers were so numb they could not feel, and every minute increased the numbness.” “Let Orville try; he is steadier than we”, they said. So Orville, keenly sensing his responsibility, took the tiny splinter of wood, and struck the spark; it caught, it blazed and the fire lived and grew.

Now they were in the woods and the fuel was plentiful and soon a roaring blaze was swirling upward. The cattle came near, and although their noses and feet were frozen, their feet grew new hoofs and their noses healed of frosted cracks. When the storm broke and light appeared, they found themselves only a few rods from their home fences.

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