Patricia PacJac Carroll: Tribute to Women Pioneers


You’re flustered and in a rush. Stop. Take a sip of your favorite Starbucks drink and imagine it’s 1850. You are comfortable in your home in Boston. Women are protected. You have your women friends, sisters, mothers, aunts around you. Life is good.


And then Harry, your husband, comes home from the store where he works. He has a wild look in his eye. No, not that wild look! He’s got a map in his hands. A piece of paper with words you may or may not be able to read depending on your status and upbringing.


Back to Happy Harry. He’s excited. His hands are trembling. (Remember, it’s not that wild look.) He sits down at his desk, scribbles out figures, and jumps out of the chair. “We can go.”


Your heart perks up. Maybe a party. You’ll need a new dress. “Yes, dear. Where?”


“To Oregon. No more working in a dark store. I can farm my own land. Realize my dream.”


You don’t want to go. Why leave? You have your friends. Family. Status.


Handsome Harry rushes to you, sweeps you off your feet, and yes, now he has that look in his eye. “Together, we’ll conquer a new land. Adam and Eve in a faraway paradise.” And he smothers your words of protest with a kiss.


Ah, well, you never could resist his kisses.


And you’re off. All your possessions whittled down into one, let me repeat that, one wagon. After tearful good-byes to loved ones you will probably never see again, you are already worn out.


On top of that, you are soon in the chaos of fifty wagons. Some of your fellow travelers are new arrivals to the United States and their different languages add to the chaos. What’s more, men are everywhere, and you are not used to being around other men. But now you are seemingly in the trenches with dirty, smelly, men.


Speaking of smelly, soon after you start on the trail, odors assault your dainty senses. What’s worse – you own them. Oh, the disgrace. It doesn’t take long into the journey and you are walking behind the wagon, suffering long hot days of slow miles and stinging flies.


You wince and cry when a shriek erupts from a wagon behind. A small child has been run over by the big wheels. Or cholera has claimed another life to be buried along the trail with the graves of those who died from other wagon trains that passed by years ago. You wonder if you or your husband will be next.


Water becomes scarce, the sun blazes, and the dust chokes what little air is left. Maybe you cringe at the small kick of the little one letting you know that yes, you are with child.  You can only pray you’ll reach Oregon before it comes.


Harry? He’s on his adventure. His dream.


Then you top the majestic mountains and see the green valleys. Your breath whooshes. You look east. Miles and miles of wagon ruts mark the land. Badges of honor to those who made the sacrifice. You look at your hands. Worn and callused. But you are strong. The little one inside you is strong too.


You gaze at Harry. He’s no longer the pale storekeeper. His body is sculpted bronze sinew forged out of the hard county. His eyes mirror the excitement and adventure you feel. Together you will tame a wild land, make a new life, and help build a new state. You realize you are home. You are a pioneer.


Now you’re back in the 21st century. It’s not really that bad. Take another sip of your drink and then whisper a quiet thank you to those brave women who made the trek west and civilized this nation.


Don’t forget them, draw on their courage, and go after

your dreams.


Golden Dreams blurb

Sometimes you have to go through your past to reach your dreams.

The civil war ends, leaving, Katy Gilbreth with nothing but a wounded heart and scarred face. Vowing not to give up, she sets her sights on California where she can get away from the hauntings of her past and start over in a land full of golden dreams. With her faith shattered and hopes fading, Katy trusts no man yet needs one to take her west.


Revelation Tarver has left California and is traveling east. He’s called to preach. A hard thing to do with a reputation as a fast gun. Going to reconcile with his father in Virginia, he believes he can outrun his past. Then he has those visions of asking a woman to marry him, but he definitely has no plans to fall in love again. Until he stops for supplies in a nowhere town and sees the woman in his dreams. Because of her past, Rev shuts his heart to Katy. After all, he’s been called by the Lord to preach, and he is headed east.


Until a killer, land grant, and a tornado throw them together on the California trail. Katy and Rev embark on a journey where their dreams collide as they face the wild land, a wicked outlaw, and their own pasts.


Leave a comment to get your name in the hat for either Liberty Belle (which is available now) or Golden Dreams when it comes out in April.

Victoria Bylin: My Modern Day Conestoga Wagon

Vicki LogoIn a few more weeks, my husband and I will be leaving our home of ten years here in northern Virginia and moving to Lexington, Kentucky.  My in-laws live there, and my youngest son goes to UK (University of Kentucky). We’re stoked!  We’re also putting all our belongings in a “pod.”  Have you seen those onsite storage containers?  I don’t mean to do an advertisement here, but the company we’re using is “Personal On Demand Storage,” aka PODS.   You’ve probably seen them.


This thing is huge.  We’re also in the middle of renovating our house. It’s a mess, so we joked about living in the Pod. A couple of cots and we’d be set . . . which got me thinking about pioneers, covered wagons, leaving home, and deciding what to do take.

I thought it would be fun to do a few comparisons.  Not all covered wagons were conestoga-smithsonian1Conestogas, but the Conestogas were the biggest. Just how big was a Conestoga wagon?   How much could it hold?  

Our Pod dimensions are 16 x 8 x 8, for a total of 6,785 cubic feet.  We got the biggest one. Conestogas came in different sizes, but the average one was nowhere close to the Pod size.  The wagon beds were 16 feet long, 4 feet deep and 4 feet wide and shaped like a boat.  That’s about 256 cubic feet of space.  By the way, Wikipedia gives much bigger dimensions for the Conestoga. (conestoga-wagon-bw24 x 11 x 4).  That has to be measuring from the ground up, and the length of the conveyance with the harness. 

In their heyday Conestogas were referred to as “the inland ship of commerce.”  They were like semi-trucks back in the early nineteenth century.  Each wagon had a tool box for repairs, which were frequent with the rutted roads and rough terrain. We picture them in long lines headed west, but they were first used in the mid 18th century in the Appalachia Valley.  

Another interesting link to modern times is the left-sided drive design.  Drivers walked or rode on the left side of the wagon.  They’d use their right hand to steer with the reins, and operate the brake with their left hand. Have you ever wondered why American cars have left sided steering and European cars don’t?  It goes back to the Conestoga.

Conestoga isn’t a generic term for “covered wagon.”  Conestogas have a specific design, i.e., the boat shape, and they were first made in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and used to haul produce to Philadelphia.  The earliest reference to a “Conestoga” was in 1711.

How did it gets name?  The wagons got their name from the Conestoga Valley in Pennysylvia where they originated.


How much could a Conestoga hold in terms of weight? A lot!  Wikipedia says it could hold 12,000 lbs. and was pulled by six horses.  I couldn’t find the weigh limit for PODS, but this is a picture of the device used to lift it on to the truck. “Podzilla” fits, don’t you think.

My husband guess-timates he loaded 4,000 lbs. of stuff. I jokingly said, “I bet 500 lbs. of that was books.”  He gave me a rather dry look and said it was more like a thousand pounds. Bless his good heart and strong back!  He didn’t complain once about the 20 boxes of paperbacks, research books and back list titles. 



Your turn! Have you moved using a POD?  Maybe you’ve rented a U-Haul and done the toting and lugging yourself.  Any military folks who’ve moved every two years?

What possessions do you take extra care of when you wrap and pack? And if you had to pack a Conestoga instead of a Pod, what would you take and what would you leave behind?


America is a mobile society and it has been from the very beginning.  We’ve gone from Conestogas to Pods, but the spirit of adventure is the same.