Richard Stokes

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What we know

Richard Stokes
1838 -1869
Wealthy New Jersey farmer. Married Martha in Stone, New Jersey. Went to war and received a medal and festering bullet in his right shoulder. Richard led a wagon train out West with his old Civil War buddies but died during the journey. One child, Chirpy.


by Jenny Kimber

Every night behind his eyelids
the crusted earth drank Richard's blood
and the black grass steamed his flesh
in his dreams as it had in the war.
Blood-brothers by battle—
not sibling of descent,
but of death—
bonded together like scabs
that remained beyond the killing,
or hidden scar-tissue
that should have been amputated
like Joe's foot, full of gangrene.
Drenched in the afterbirth of war
they formed a family,
and Richard led them west.

On the trail, he circled the wagons
and stared at his wife in wonder,
his fair skinned bride from New Jersey
living with these men
still thirsting for murder
He protected her beauty
along with her meager heirlooms
crated in the wagon—
her mother's rose-lined cake platter,
the silver candlestick holders,
the crystal vase from Paris,
and the prized china tea cups1.—
these were the things that would tame
the west, she told him.
He hoped she was right.

When the fever ransacked his body,
just one month of ground lay behind them.
Her face floated at his side,
and he thought he heard her whisper
something about a baby,
but a haunting chant swam in his ears,
and he felt again the earth
consuming his blood.
He focused on the men
whom he always knew
would watch him die
and worried about the china.

He'd seen their dirt-callused hands
handling glass, smearing lace,
he'd caught them sneering at her.
China couldn't survive their touch.





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A drawing of a covered wagon.
Martha Stokes

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