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Chapter One
February 1, 1884

Dear Cousin Grace,

Greetings from Kansas. I hope my letter finds you well. As you know, I've joined the Great Exodus and am now a member of a newly founded colony in southern Kansas. It has not been an easy task, trying to carve out a life in a place where none has existed before, but we've done it. We've built houses, cleared land, and put in our first crops. Now, many of the unmarried men wish to start families but lack the most necessary element-wives. We're wondering if you could make inquiries on our behalf as to whether any decent, god-fearing women in Chicago would be willing to travel here and marry.

I'm writing to you because no one else knows of anyone capable of taking on such a daunting task. Our men are stalwart individuals, most are educated, and many like me are veterans of Mr. Lincoln's war. Since new men are arriving weekly, by the time this letter reaches you, we will undoubtedly need between thirty and thirty-five women. If you decide to take up our quest, please reply soon so that the funds you'll need to finance the journey can be deposited in your accounts. I will also be posting to you sketches and information on each of the men wishing to be a part of this plan in hopes of helping the women choose their mates before they arrive. I dearly hope you can assist us. Hello to the aunts.

Your cousin,
Price Prescott


March 6, 1884

Dear Cousin Price,

Your letter did indeed find me well. I've decided to accept your unorthodox challenge. Having given the journey much thought, I feel it would be best to travel by wagon. The insidiousness of Jim Crow makes a train trip too perilous. I do not wish to have us all ordered off a train in the middle of the wilds or forced to ride with cattle. Granted, this decision will raise the costs, but I prefer the women reach Kansas City free of terror and with their dignity intact. I'm sure your men will agree. The aunts send their love.

Your loving cousin,
Grace Atwood


April 3, 1884

"You're going where?" Grace's elderly aunts shouted in unison, as they sat in the downstairs parlor of Grace's modestly appointed home.

"To Kansas City," Grace echoed simply. "Cousin Price wants me to find brides for the men in his colony and I've agreed to do it."

Grace watched her aunts, Tulip and Dahlia, stare first at each other and then back at her. She sought to explain further. "You both know I'm not one to cry over spilled milk, but since Amanda's and Garth's wedding, I've wanted to get away, and this seems a golden opportunity."

Both women nodded sympathetically. They knew of the gossiping and whispering that had been dogging Grace's every step since Garth's betrayal and how much pain the whole ugly ordeal had caused her even though she never let it show. Dahlia and Tulip were aunts on Grace's late mother Vanessa's side of the family and had come to Chicago last November to help Grace bury her father, Elliot. They'd intended to stay only until she mastered her grief but the visit lengthened, mainly because they found the bustling city of Chicago far livelier than their home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and because they loved their niece as much as they'd loved her mother.

"Who will run the bank while you're away?" Tulip asked. She was the shorter, plumper, and elder of the two widowed aunts. Tulip and Dahlia had been named after their mother's favorite flowers.

"I believe Mr. Rowe and the others are capable of seeing to things."

"You believe," Dahlia echoed skeptically, looking at Grace over her spectacles. The sisters were complete opposites in temperament. Tulip viewed life optimistically and rarely found fault in anyone or anything. On the other hand, the tall, thin Dahlia tended to be more skeptical and opinionated. Tulip often swore Dahlia should've been named Nightshade for her sometimes negative opinions, but Grace thought the two women balanced each other perfectly and loved them both equally. "The bank will do fine without me. I wouldn't go if I didn't think so."

Grace had complete faith in the abilities of her employees. Head clerk, Lionel Rowe, one of her father's first hires, had been working at the bank for many years.

"I'd still worry," Dahlia stated firmly.

Tulip's black eyes sparkled with irritation as she told her sister, "Oh, for heaven's sake, Dahl, stop curdling the milk. Elliot wouldn't've willed her the keys had he not had faith in her good sense."

Grace decided to interrupt before an argument started. Dahlia, for all her contrary ways, had quite a thin skin and her feelings were hurt easily. The aunts loved each other beyond measure, but that didn't stop them from sometimes fighting like the siblings they were.

"Aunt Dahlia, you're right to be concerned," Grace offered supportively, "although I'll be gone for some time, I'm confident everything will go well."

Tulip chuckled, "Grace, you make it sound as if you'll be gone for months. The trains run much faster than they once did. You'll be in Kansas before you know it."

"We aren't going by train. We're traveling by wagon."

"Wagon?" the aunts shouted in unison again.

"Wagon."

"But why?" Dahlia asked. "Why would you want to subject yourself to such hardship?"

"Jim Crow," Grace answered simply.

"Ah," they both replied.

The political gains made by the race after the war were slowly buckling beneath the oppressive weight of the laws and policies implemented by the south's Redemptionist Democrats...

 

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