Racheltjie de Beer is one of the stories we were told as young children. I would like to share this story with you today.
During the month of June 1843 we were on our way from the Orange Free State to the Transvaal. As the Ox Wagons move through the long grass which has turned yellow as the winter started you can see for miles around you.
The sky is blue with streaks of white clouds here and there, the wind is blowing today, it’s cold and the folk are all quiet. The oxen’s move forward and the dogs run alongside the wagons. We have packed up all our belongings and are looking forward to living in the Transvaal.
Rumor has it that there is gold to be found and that the province is beautiful, mountain country and that we can make our fortunes there. On the horizon I can see a mountain range and the trees are starting to come into sight. The people in our company are all getting excited; we are entering into the Transvaal.
The surrounding area is very different to the Orange Free State, there are trees all over the place with loads of rocks and we are experiencing some problems with our wagons. Every now and then someone has to stop for a wheel has come off or is broken. But the people are in good spirits. We don’t know what kind of wild animals are roaming around but we have seen some beautiful ‘Spring bucks’ and ‘Wilde Bees.’ As we pull our Ox Wagons into a ring and make fire for the evening super the people are all busy with collecting wood and getting their pots out for super. The fires are warm and as we sit around the fire enjoyed the stews and black coffee.
It’s still cold there isn’t any snow but the wind is ice cold and the temperatures drop rapidly. Early morning everybody is preparing for the long trek, we don’t want to stay in one place too long. The kids are enjoying the new surrounding but we don’t allow them to move away from the company it is really dangerous.
It was around late afternoon when Rachel and her brother both came running up to me from the back of the wagon. As I sat on my horse I stopped and spoke to them ‘what is it?’ I asked as I leaned down to them.
‘Pa, pa Frikkie is missing.’ Rachel said with her brother standing next to her.
‘When did you realize his missing?’ I asked as I got off my horse.
‘We don’t know, his missing.’ Rachel said as she looked around to see if she could spot him.
‘Go back to your mom and sit in the wagon, I will speak to Oom Ben and see what we can do about his.’ I said as I got back onto my horse and road off to the front of the company.
‘Ben’ I called out as I was riding toward his ox wagon.
Ben was sitting in front of the wagon with a felt hat on and warm jacked directing the oxen.
‘Woa Woa’ he called out as the oxen came to a halt.
‘Ja, de Beer. What is the problem?’ Ben asked as he took the pipe from his mouth.
‘Our little calf Frikkie is missing.’ I said as I sat on my horse looking at the old man.
‘that’s no good, we will have to speak to the rest of the company and see if we can find the calf.’ Ben said as he jumped off the wagon. The company came to a halt and all the men came up to see what was wrong. They discussed the situation and the ox wagons where arranged into a circle as was the custom. The woman and children would wait and prepare meals.
‘Pa, pa … please let us come with you. We also want to help in finding Frikkie.’ Rachel pleaded as we stood waiting for the men to gather. ‘No, Rachel it’s not safe and you can stay helping your mom.’ I said not wanting to endanger my children.
‘Oh please Pa, please’ Rachel kept at me.
‘On one condition, you and your brother stay near us; on wondering off on your own.’ I said as I pulled both my children towards me hugging them and then I stood up and walked over to the men.
We were all calling out ‘Frikkie’ and walking into the wilderness. The children on toe, it the day was changing and dusk was upon us. We stopped and regrouped, I called out ‘Rachel and de Beertjie’. There was no answer it was too late to walk about and it was decided we will resume our search early in the morning. I was angry but there wasn’t anything I could do.
‘We are lost and all alone.’ He walked moaning while Rachel looked for a place they could find shelter. The wind wasn’t blowing but the night air was cold and she knew it was imperative to find somewhere they could shelter.
While they were walking in the dark Rachel noticed an anthill, it was hallway open, and an aardvark had already dug it out. ‘Come let’s get into the whole and see it we can stay warm’ Rachel pulled on her brothers arms half dragging him to the anthill. Standing looking at the anthill she realised it was too small. Bending down she started to dig a little more so that she could fit her brother in the whole.
‘I want my mommy, I am cold.’ He was complaining as she moved him into the whole. He sat down and she sat in front of him but he kept on moaning. Standing up Rachel took off her warm jacket and jersey and put it over her brother. Sitting down she was shivering, Brr it was cold tonight. Still he was moaning. Rachel took off her little dress and placed over her brother and sat down in front of the whole, her little slip was so thin but she crossed her arms and place her head on them. It was very cold. She fell asleep and died.
Early the next morning I rose and all the men were ready to help me look for my two children. The funny thing is the children weren’t that far away from the wagons. They must have been a half a kilometre away. We found my beautiful girl sitting in front of an anthill with only her slip on. Her brother nestled in the back of the anthill covered with all her clothing. On finding them my heart broke. I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my cheeks. My daughter gave her life to protect and keep her brother safe.
We buried my little girl in the veld and placed a couple of rocks on her grave. I love my children and will never forget her bravery.
Racheltjie de Beer gave her life to protect her brother from the freezing cold. My darling child.