I was lonesome, awful lonesome
“I was lonesome, awful lonesome.” Elma Childers,
Edmond Oklahoma, May 11, 1889
Maybe you are feeling socially isolated right now!
Isolation is a new circumstance for our generation—but it’s not new to the pioneers who settled Edmond just 130 years ago.
One of our museum exhibits, “Elma’s Letter,” is relevant to this very topic.
Elma Childers came to Oklahoma during the 1889 Land Run with her husband and baby. Elma had waded through the Canadian River carrying baby Winnie that April 22, 1889. They had fallen in the river and walked the rest of the way wet.
Three weeks later, she wrote to her Kansas-based family.
Elma described the loud cheers that went out at 12 o’clock noon when the race began, and she wrote that, “We are well pleased with our place.” She described the tent they lived in, and she dreamed about a future log house.
Land Run Loneliness
But then, Elma told of her loneliness. She said, “I was lonesome, awful lonesome.”
Her husband was gone during the day and sometimes overnight, leaving just her and the baby. It was 16 miles to the post office in Oklahoma City.
She wrote to her family, “You think you are lonesome sometimes, but if you want to know lonesome, move away from your friends to a new country and be by yourself all day long.”
Elma could only dream of a time when she might have a real house, that the church might be built in town, and that she might one day see her family again.
Hopefulness From History
With the Safer At Home initiatives during the Coronavirus scare, Oklahomans are experiencing loneliness in ways unfamiliar to this generation—but feelings of isolation are not unique to humanity. We are fortunate to have television, computers and phones that allow us to see other faces—ways of human contact that Elma did not have.
But I think the take-home message of this is NOT that Elma had it worse. Instead, I think her letter gives us the clues that we need to be encouraged. Her letter expressed her hopefulness. Elma knew she WOULD eventually be surrounded by more people, just like we do.
We can look back at Land Run history and know that Elma was just a few weeks into her new life–but within the year, a whole town would be functioning around her, she’d have a church, and her life wouldstart to become normal again. Not the normal she felt before settling in Oklahoma Territory, but the adjusted normal that comes as life changes.
We are a few weeks into this, but we KNOW things will not always be this way. And we know that however altered life may be on the other side of this pandemic, we will adjust. Humans are resilient.
So, if you are feeling lonely today, please take heart from Elma. History proves that humans can be both lonely and hopeful.
To read Elma’s full letter, I am Lonesome, Awful Lonesome | Edmond Historical Society