THE FILLIES WELCOME AGNES ALEXANDER
The first time I visited the states west of the Mississippi I knew I’d one day write a book set in that beautiful country. At the time I was immersed in raising my daughter, working as a human resource manager and writing short stories and articles for the local newspaper, children’s Sunday school papers and regional magazines. I even wrote and sold three children’s books based on the work I did at my church with young people. But the idea of writing novels stayed in the back of my mind.
Finally, I decided I’d waited long enough. I began writing novels. Three of those first attempts still rest in my desk drawer, but I sold my fourth manuscript – a mystery. Thirteen more mystery, romantic suspense, and mainstream books followed. Then I joined RWA and Carolina Romance Writers where I sat across the table from my idol and fellow member, Harold Lowery (aka Leigh Greenwood). To say I was awed, is putting it mildly. He remarkedthat people should write what they like to read most. Well, I had not only read everything he’d published, I’d read some of them twice and three times.
I came home, put my mystery writing on hold, pulled out all the pictures from my three vacations in the west. I then took a trip to my favorite used bookstore and bought stacks of western romance novels by a variety of authors. In three months I’d read 200 novels and felt I had a grip on what publishers wanted. Satisfied I knew what to do, I sat down and wrote my first western historical romance. It was a time travel western that didn’t sell at the time, but I wasn’t deterred. I looked through my notes and saw I had a lot of information on wagon trains. I also remembered ‘Western the Women,’ one of my favorite movies, and felt I had to write a novel about pioneers going west.
The large Conestoga wagons were too long and heavy to make the trip so the prairie schooner became the wagon of choice. Many of the immigrants traveling westconverted their farm wagons into ones that could make the trip. Oxen were recommended to pull these wagons because they had no trouble eating the different grasses, though some families chose mules and others horses. One of the most interesting items in my research was the list that many wagon masters put together about what a family needed in the way of food, clothing, and tools to make this journey.
Food recommended for each adult: 150 pounds of flour, 20 pounds of corn meal, 50 pounds of bacon, 40 pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of coffee, 5 pounds of salt, 5 pounds of rice, 15 pounds of dried fruit and 15 pounds of dried beans. For each child: 1/2 to 2/3 of an adult portion.Many travelers added their favorite foods such as tea, potatoes, dried vegetables and other items. Some brought along a cow for milk to drink and butter, which was churned in a barrel tied to the side of the wagon as the vehicle swayed and bounced along the trail.
Clothing: Each person brought at least two changes of clothes and undergarments, multiple pairs of boots (two to three pairs often wore out on the trip because most people walked). Wool was recommended because it held up well and deflected the sun better than cotton. A sewing kit was a must because items tended to wear out or get torn.
Other necessities were rifles, hand guns, knives, tobacco, ropes, tents, tin dishes, soap, simple cooking utensils, bedding, matches, and medical supplies such as herbs, whiskey, and simple remedies.
Costs could run between $600 and $1,000 to outfit a wagon for this journey.
The book I wrote about the Oregon Trail is Fiona’s Journey, whichcame out in 2012 and was my first published western romance. I now have six western romances published and hope to write many more since I feel I’ve found my place in the writing world.
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