They made their way to Missouri to join a wagon train company. Hopeful Americans and immigrants alike longing for a better life. The free land in the West, and especially in Oregon, seemed the stepping stone to that life of plenty.
Just imagine that first day of walking the hundred miles to the other side of the continent. Here’s how I pictured it for my latest heroine in Beau’s Elegant Bride:
The oxen slowed even more than their typical crawling speed. One even tried to snatch a mouthful of grass from beside the road. Using the small whip in his hand. Beau carefully snapped it above their heads. At the same time, he crooned a command.
“Giddup now. Day’s not done.”
The cattle resumed their walk, pulling slightly faster. It seemed they were no happier to be on this trail than Francy was. Never in her life had she imagined to feel any kinship to stupid beasts.
While more than an estimated 400,000 people left from Missouri on wagon trains for Oregon, very few made it to that spot. Only about 80,000 actually settled in Oregon.
If you’ve played the popular Oregon Trail game, you might think these overlanders simply died. That works for a game, but is historically untrue. Very few actually passed away.
The trail ended some pioneers’ dreams merely because of broken wagons. If a traveler didn’t bring an extra axel, he had to settle near where he was stuck. That is, if someone couldn’t help repair the wagon.
Even then, discouragement might have been enough to make the man decide to stay on the plains. After all, land for farming could be claimed there and if a man had served in the Union Army during the war between the states, he could stake a claim for little or nothing.
As wagons reached the Rocky Mountains, travelers could see distant towering shapes growing daily larger. Imagine how intimidated those people felt. Already tired from crossing the plains, they saw those distant peaks and knew they needed the energy to get over the mountains. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Oregon-Trail
At the junction of the Raft and Snake Rivers, trails verged to other parts of the country. These promised a bit easier going or even the chance to settle and leave the trail behind.
Denver had a boom of miners. The young city, not much more than a collection of tents as you can see by this picture, desperately needed the produce from farmers.
Many settlers veered toward the land available there. Word had been passed to these travelers that the soil was good. The promised of building a home and even planting a late summer garden lured some from their goal of Oregon.
My characters in Beau’s Elegant Bride consider this very thing:
Panic flashed through her. “Do you think we might farm near the Crooks? Are they going all the way to Oregon?”
“Might be we could change plans. The Crooks are leavin’ the company and followin’ the South Platte in a few days.”
“Are there mountains that way?”
Beau squeezed her tighter and rested his chin on her head, not something easily done as they were similar in height. With her head bent against him, he managed it. “I’d need to study my map or ask William Crook ‘bout it. He says the people in and around Denver need farmers bringin’ in vegetables.”
News from California circulated in the East about the rich soil and crops that could be grown. California, with its warmer temperatures or even the promise of gold, also had some separating from the wagon trains to make up a smaller train as they headed away from the company to take a southern trail.
Where did all the settlers go? The easy answer is they simply settled, lived, and helped change the face of our nation.
Now it’s your turn. Do you think you’d have had the strength needed to stay on the path to Oregon? Or would you have stopped or veered off course long before? I’m giving away an ebook copy of Beau’s Elegant Bride to three (3) lucky commenters.
The Sweepstakes Rules posted on P&P apply.
A retired high school English teacher, she and her husband reside in Saginaw, Michigan. Her sweet historical romances focus on her home state of Wisconsin. Inspiration to write came in part from hearing family stories about her pioneering Wisconsin ancestors.
Can a Widow in the Wild West …find wedded bliss again?
When Cassandra Stewart fulfills her husband’s dying wish by visiting the ranch he loved, she plans to sell it. But then she meets his best friend. As aloof, ruggedly handsome Wolf shows Cassandra the value of life in the prairies, tenderness begins to grow from their shared pain into something more… Maybe theres a future for her at the Rocking S Ranch after all…
The hero in this story captured my heart. I have a soft spot for the competent, yet brooding type and Wolf is all that. What characteristics say “hero” to you?
I also wanted to share a short book trailer…
And an excerpt from Chapter One ~
Alexandria, Virginia ~ 1879
Cassandra Stewart slipped her had through the crook in her father’s arm and leaned on him for support as she descended the grand staircase of her parent’s estate. At the bottom of the stairs, her mother stood beside their housemaid. “I don’t like this, Cassandra. Not one bit. Are you sure that you want to do this today?”
“No. I’m not sure, but I’ve put it off for far too long. It’s been ten months since Douglas has been gone.”
“You are still weak. Just the work of dressing has taxed your strength.”
She smoothed the wide silk belt at her waist. It matched the dress she had donned. How she hated the color black. “The attorney said it was necessary as soon as I was feeling well enough. Today is a good day. I feel stronger. Besides, Mr. Edelman went out of his way to travel all the way from the city to take care of things. It is time.”
Father patted her forearm—his way of showing support, both physically and emotionally. He was ready for, as he stated, “the entire disaster of her marriage” to be over and done with. He wanted his little girl back and for life to return to the way it once had been before she ever met Douglas Stewart Jr. Father simply wanted to protect her—his only child—and this was his way to do it. He had no idea that she could never go back to life as it once was. Not after all that had transpired. Douglas had changed everything in her life. So had the loss of their baby.
The house echoed with the whispers of her two great-aunts. While she’d been confined to her bed, they’d discussed her in the hallway just beyond her bedroom door. A wayward woman—tainted—they’d called her, speculating whether the death of her husband was a punishment from above because she’d blatantly gone against her parents’ wishes and the mores of decent society to marry so quickly. Most couples were engaged a year before the wedding ceremony.
Cassandra consoled herself with the knowledge that their own marriages had been long and lonely, as their husbands both sought to escape their daily harping and criticism. Her own marriage, although only a few short months, had been a wonder, and she would be forever grateful to have had that time with Douglas. Yet her great-aunts’ harsh judgment stung her conscience. She had never been good enough to suit them. A disappointment—that’s what she was.
As she walked slowly down the hallway, a chill coursed through her. She pulled her tatted shawl tighter around her shoulders with her free hand. Despite the heavy heat of the midsummer afternoon, she was still cold. The meeting shouldn’t take long. All she had to do was sign the official papers, and her late husband’s land would then be ready to sell. She might have sold it long before this, releasing the burden of a property she’d never seen, if not for Mr. Edelman’s insistence that he make sure that no will existed.
And then there had been her daughter. Cassandra had held out hope that the property would be a legacy to pass on, but her daughter had come early—much too early. Her chest tightened at the memory. She didn’t want to dwell on it yet couldn’t help herself. Hope had become despair. And a mad fury had overtaken her. Douglas had been reckless to participate in that boat race. He’d thought himself invincible in all things. The very quality that had drawn her to him had also been the death of him.
Well, today would be one more snip in the rope that tethered him to her. A rope that she both loved and hated at the same time. Her heart had ached for so very long—nearly a year now. Her hopes and dreams had all been dashed the moment the boat he’d crewed with his friends had collided with another.
As she entered the library, Mr. Edelman turned from the floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the lawn and the Potomac River. He was a short, round man, with light gray hair and eyes to match. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Stewart.”
At the sound of her married name, her father’s grip tightened on her hand. After all this time, it still bothered him.
“Thank you, Father.” She released his arm and sat down in the chair he held out for her on one side of the massive oak table.
“Mr. Edelman. Thank you for making the journey today. Please take a seat.”
Her mother and father took seats on each side of her at the long table as if to bolster her for what might be coming.
“Indeed, it is no imposition. It is always a treat to get away from the city for a short break in routine, especially in the oppressive heat of summer.” He cleared his throat and took a seat across from her. “I prepared the paperwork several months ago and simply set it aside, awaiting this moment when you would be ready. All that is needed is your signature in several places.”
He set his leather satchel on the table and withdrew a stack of papers. “Most of your late husband’s finances are tied up in the property. Since he left no will, as his wife, you inherit everything. Once the ranch sells, you should have enough money to choose where you want to live and live there quite comfortably.”
Mother gave her a quick side hug. “You will stay here. As you have since the…incident.”
It wasn’t an incident…it was a marriage. But the courtship and wedding had happened so fast, and then the marriage had been over just as fast. No one’s fault, the captain had written in his report of the boating accident. If not for the months of morning sickness that followed and the lingering ache in her belly, Cassandra might have wondered if the marriage had happened at all.
Mr. Edelman placed the first paper in front of her along with a pen.
Something he’d said gave her pause. “You must be exaggerating the extent of his holdings. Douglas said it was a very small farm. He only had a few cows. Certainly not sufficient enough to keep me for more than a year.”
She picked both papers up and started to read. Halfway down the page she realized she hadn’t understood anything and started over. The inked letters swam before her, the words meaningless.
Mother leaned toward her. “I’m sure Mr. Edelman has everything in order, dear. He’s very reputable, and your father has already looked over everything.”
Cassandra stared at the line where she was to put her signature. It was all so very final—putting her mark there. She should simply sign it and let it go. There was already a potential buyer in Denver waiting for word from her. But all that she could think of was the last time she’d seen Douglas. He’d been in so much pain toward the end, but he’d asked her to do one last thing for him.
Mother leaned toward her. “Sign the paper, dear. Mr. Edelman is waiting.”
Cassandra looked up and caught the worried glance her mother sent her father. Another chill slithered through her. Why did she feel so torn about this? Had she procrastinated, not because of her health, but because of the promise she had made to Doug? Was that the real reason she had put off this moment?
“Before I sign this, I have one question.”
“Yes?” Mr. Edelman said.
“Will I be able to stay on the property after these papers are signed?”
He looked momentarily surprised. “Well…no. Any further contact with the property would be handled by Mayor Melbourne in Oak Grove. He is the attorney there. He has agreed to handle the sale upon receipt of these papers. There would be no need for you to travel there yourself.”
“But…what if I choose to?”
Father shook his head. “We’ve been through all this. You are not strong enough to go.”
“But I will be. Not tomorrow, or even next week. But someday.”
Mr. Edelman leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers together over his girth. “I didn’t realize that you had reservations about selling your land. Perhaps you should explain.”
Your land. How could it be hers if she’d never seen it? Never walked upon it? “You see…after his accident and just before he…he passed, my husband asked me to go to the farm. He wanted me to live there—to stay for an entire month. I’m sure he hoped I would come to love it and stay, but of course, that is not possible. I would not want to be there without him.”
“Your parents didn’t mention any of this when they retained my services.”
Of course, they hadn’t. Discussing it in front of Mr. Edelman was their ploy to make sure she felt even more pressure to bend to their wishes.
“It would be sensible if the property were nearby, but to travel all the way to Kansas…” her father interjected.
“Yes, yes,” Mr. Edelman said. “Highly irregular for a young woman of means. Not a good idea to travel on your own. There are ruffians and scallywags out West.”
Cassandra nearly smiled at the exact same words her parents had used when trying to stop her from marrying Douglas. Surely the great Wild West held all sorts of people, not just the social miscreants mentioned time and again by her family and close friends.
“Douglas spoke of the place only a few times,” she said. “He looked forward to showing it to me, but then the boating accident happened.”
“It really is for the best, Cassie,” Mother said. “You belong here. Not halfway across the country stuck on a cow farm with a bunch of rough men.”
Her mother’s words left little uncertainty as to her true feelings. Cassandra glanced up at Mr. Edelman. No doubt he’d heard of her situation, bantered up and down the seaboard by gossipy society matrons. Mother’s inference did not help the slightly tarnished, although completely undeserved, reputation that she’d acquired by marrying Douglas so rapidly.
She suddenly realized that her fingers were clenched around the pen and her teeth were clamped together. Even her chest was tight. She had loved Douglas honorably. It wasn’t fair for others to judge her otherwise.
With that thought, something in the cold ashes of her core sparked. A wisp of the determination she’d once possessed began to glow inside her. Douglas’s memory didn’t deserve to be brushed aside and forgotten as if he’d never existed, as if he were an “unfortunate incident.” Their marriage had happened no matter how hard Mother and Father tried to sweep it under the rug…and push her to forget it.
She was angry that he’d left her alone and reeling from the consequences of his careless behavior, but she still loved him. Their short marriage had been wonderful. Maybe she should do as he asked. A promise, after all, was still a promise, even after death.
She set the pen down, her movement slow and deliberate. “I want to see the grave and make sure that my husband’s interment—” how she hated that word “—was handled appropriately. I believe I will make the journey after all.”
The silence that followed her announcement reverberated like the last gong of a bell.
“Well then,” Mr. Edelman said after a moment, glancing from her to her parents. He gathered the papers together in front of him. “If you are sure that is what you want, I’ll get these in the post to the attorney in Oak Grove. They’ll be waiting there for your signature after you have fulfilled your promise to your late husband.”
“Why can’t I carry them with me?”
He looked unsure. “It’s irregular.”
“It seems sensible to me. They are, after all, my papers.”
“Very well. When you arrive in town, simply leave them with Josiah Melbourne.” He started to close his satchel when he stopped. “Oh, yes. Here’s one more item.” He withdrew a small box and handed it to her.
The crude wooden box was the size of a small rectangle jewelry case and without any decoration. She turned it over. Her husband’s initials—DLS—were burned into the bottom. “Where did this come from?”
“Mayor Melbourne said it was found among your late husband’s papers.”
She frowned. “Why am I only seeing it now?”
“We thought it an oddity,” Mother said quickly. “It’s just an ugly box. Nothing of consequence.”
“But it was important enough to Douglas that he kept it with his legal papers.” Cassandra smoothed her fingertips over the letters. The box was an amateur attempt at woodworking. Was it Douglas’s first attempt? She knew so little of that part of his life. Now, she guessed it made scant difference.
“I took the liberty of opening it, thinking it might hold something of import regarding your late husband’s estate,” the attorney said, indicating she should go ahead and open the box. “As you will see that was not the case.”
She opened the lid.
A folded piece of paper lay on top of a few small assorted items—a lock of auburn hair tied with a bow, a bullet and a leather thong with a small turquoise stone. On the very bottom was a feather. Mementos, she supposed. She wished Doug were here to explain their meaning.
She opened the paper and found a note in her husband’s script, written with a steady, strong hand.
Wáse’ekhaar’a— You will know what to do. Wira’a
“This isn’t for me,” she murmured, confused. They certainly were strange names.
“We could put it in the post,” Mother suggested. “There is no reason for you to hand-carry it all the way to Kansas. You belong here.”
Cassandra closed her eyes. “Mother. Please. I will simply take it with me. Someone there will surely know what it is all about.” She turned to the attorney. “I’m sorry to have brought you all this way only to stop short at the last moment.”
“Quite all right.” He leaned toward her, his gray eyes kind. “Your mother and father do have your best interests at heart. You are obviously still recovering from your illness, and it is an arduous journey to travel so far.” He stuffed the papers and the box carefully back in the satchel. “If you change your mind and end up staying here, then send me word and we will talk again.”
“Thank you, Mr. Edelman.”
He stood, as did her parents. At the library door, he stopped. “Please consider, Mrs. Stewart. A promise made to a man on his deathbed isn’t legally binding. God would not hold you accountable for trying to ease the last few hours of your husband’s life. Good day.” He turned and headed down the hall, followed by her mother and father.
They would, as a matter of course, hold a whispered conversation out of her hearing, trying desperately to figure out a way to keep her here. Whatever plan they hatched would come to naught. She was getting stronger. She had to do what she thought was best.
“God might not hold me accountable,” she whispered into the empty room. “But I do.”