Martha Stokes

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Marble Springs 2.0 screenshot of Martha Stokes

What we know

1849 - 1930
Married Richard Stokes, wealthy New Jersey farmer. Richard led a wagon train out West in 1869 with his old Civil War buddies but died during the journey. The rest of the train decided to mine in the recently opened Ute Territory, in the Crystal River Valley. Without a way back to Stone, New Jersey, Martha stayed to cook and clean for the rest of the men. One living child, Chirpy three miscarriages. When the railroad came in, she bundled up Chirpy and went back East.


They had all come out from
Stone, New Jersey long before.
Richard leading his army buddies in four wagons.
She the only woman—
Foreman’s privilege, they called her.
She was one month along at the start,
and Richard died one month in—
first from the1 thirst fever.

The night they pulled rocks over his body
they were silent.
The fire burned long and low
into thick grass shadows.
They took her after
they had finished up
her ash-black bread—
cracking her arms behind her.
Their ice eyes taunted her:
“No way back, girlie, no way back.”

Next morning she brought wood and tended
fire for the five men, sidestepped her bruises.
And when she tried to sleep
crushed up against the wagon,
one came in. Stared a minute. Patted a minute.

“There’s no way back, girlie—“
his beard was rough in her ear.
Others came in.
She lost the baby.
Got another.
They left her alone when the time came,
in the newspaper-covered canvas tent.
Heated creek water herself.
Shouted as the girl tore out.

She kept Chirpy safe, like the redbirds that
came sometimes for spare seeds
on ice-cracked mud outside
the lean-to they finally built her.
Cooked. Cleaned. Ironed2.

But they still came in to her—
now in whispers to quiet
the girl sleeping by her cot—
There’s no way back.





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A drawing of a pedal sewing machine.
Constanza Ascencione
Lucy Rainer

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