Dr. Madelaine Paschal
It’s been said that when you are most alone, perhaps the memory of love will bring you home. And as we stood together that soft, glorious afternoon, on the land that once held horses, riders, and his long-ago family, he cried. He knew that the few memories that he had left had brought him back home.
You see, he had heard, from the time he was a child, growing up in the sun, surf, and bustle of early Hollywood and California’s gold coast about a great-grandfather he had never met and a great-grandmother his own grandmother rarely discussed. But he did know one thing. They had come across another ocean in another century and had made their way to a remote, breathtakingly serene part of America. And it was there that they put down their Sicilian roots, bringing with them their knowledge of medieval sports and their love of horses. It was there they planted a home, their children, and a few crops. It was there in the heart of Indian territory that they found the dream they had heard about in the books and voices of those who wanted a new history and were willing to create it from scratch. They had found America! They had found Wyoming territory and the Dakotas. They had found home.
“This is paradise,” he kept saying to himself over and over. “How did they know it would be their destiny—where they bore children, built shelter, and brought the art of racing horses to an untamed wilderness?” He didn’t have any of the answers, only conjecture as to the ‘whys’ and ‘hows.’ But he had stumbled upon his bloodline. He had come across history, and it was his.
And all of a sudden, help began to filter towards him like an odd happening that almost never happens. As history opened her doors through the caring and concern of America’s proud west, a community opened their hearts and recollections to him. And one by one, he began to find the ones who came much later who were still there to recall, if only a little bit, another time. They helped him find the antiquated, dutifully-annotated bound history books filled with hundreds of names of the early ones who bought, fought, and died on the land they cherished and would prayerfully pass on to later generations. He gazed at long-forgotten signatures of the hopeful, the daring, and the strong who brought from the old world courage and determination to take on the unexplored and unexplained. He would soon discover that his own legacy helped to open the roads, the rails, and the rivers. And he realized for the first time in his eighty-five years, that right there in that very spot, where he stood, his beloved mother had once stirred up the dust, watered her gardens, and breathed the very air he was now inhaling and he choked back more tears, but to no avail.
It was right here, just a little west of the tiny hamlet of Beulah, Wyoming, just an edge north of Sandy Creek and a mere stone’s throw south of Dodd Mountain, that his great-grandfather, Bartimo Bissacca and his Spanish bride, Anna, began their 100-acre racetrack, their family, and their new life in their new country.
Gordon couldn’t believe it. The old hand-sketched map that he had held onto for some unknown reason had surely earned her keep. A local historian and museum curator in Sundance, Wyoming recognized the location depicted in the old map, stopped what he was doing in his busy day, and offered to show him the land. A local newspaperman and a business owner offered a name of a vast ranching family, one of whom might be helpful in pinpointing Bart’s land that once had housed more than fifteen hundred well-papered equines that had come by rail all the way from Omaha! That was in the Year of our Lord, 1892, according to record. And another piece of the puzzle was carefully placed.
And then, a talented and kind county history buff in Belle Fourche even went so far as to pull up the exact location of the land on Google Earth so that she could actually pinpoint where the land was located. As the map zoomed in, Gordon gasped…everyone did! It was as if God was showing off his geological talent, direct from the heavens, and the ancestral racetrack came into view! Now plowed and planted, but never to be erased, we were all witnessing an earthly (or heavenly) time capsule. Mother Nature had saved the best for last!
Gordon Paschal, great-grandson to Bart and Anna Bissacca, then quietly looked up and whispered, “Thank you.” But, there’s one more thing.
Somehow, another small prayer request was answered. Someone knew that the cemetery in Belle Fourche might hold another surprise. And it did. There they were! Quietly and proudly laying beneath the huge trees in a carefully-manicured, and lovingly-defined cemetery in the quaint, pastoral setting were the headstones marking the passing of Bartimo and Anna Bissacca! There, where the earth and sky seem to be in one accord, were they buried, forever together, now peacefully sleeping, maybe.
But who knows? Maybe there are great and wonderful horse races in heaven! “Someday,” Gordon said quietly as he squeezed my hand, “I’ll bet that I’ll be right there with my great-grandmother and great-grandfather. I know I’ll recognize them, and Gramps, and Nanny, and Auntie Anne, and my beautiful mom, Dale”.
“Perhaps love is like a window…perhaps an open door. It invites you to come closer. It wants to show you more…” (lyrics by John Denver’s “Perhaps Love”).
*Special thanks to Doug Cole, George Wilson, Cowboys Too!, Rocky Courchaine, Nels Smith, and the wonderful historians in Belle Fourche, South Dakota, and Sundance, Wyoming.