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Into the Great Unknown: Chapter Eleven

Updated on August 11, 2017

Not Much More in This Series

I have another series I’m itching to write about, so I’ll wrap this one up soon enough. Maybe two more installments will be enough to get these folks to Oregon.

They just left Fort Bridger which is in modern-day Wyoming. They still need to finish up the Rockies, traverse over a desert near Boise, Idaho, cross the Blue Mountains before navigating the Columbia River to the Willamette Valley.

No piece of cake at all!

Let’s see how they are doing.

Swift-flowing rivers heading west
Swift-flowing rivers heading west | Source

Water Running in the Opposite Direction

It was Laura who first noticed it. I had too many things on my mind, and I was too blasted tired to notice, but sure enough, one day she said the water was flowing west instead of east, and damn if she wasn’t right, it was, we had crossed the Great Divide, and once pointed out to the rest, there was a general subdued celebration in camp. We were on the Pacific Ocean side of the mountains, a victory for sure.

A short-lived victory.

It snowed that night, the last week of August.

“That’s right, pilgrims,” shouted Jackson the next morning, the ground covered with a fresh mantle of four inches of snow. “Winter ain’t a’waitin’ for the weak or the stragglers. Get a move on, now. We break camp in thirty minutes and we wait for no man.” He rode away, leaving his sharp odor behind.

Up one hill, down another, a constant give and take of elevation, some of those hills so damned steep we had to tie off the wagons onto the biggest trees and slowly lower them down the slope with ropes, slow going for sure, and dangerous, damned dangerous, my ears never forgetting the sounds of screaming as the ropes broke on Turner’s wagon, he and his wife hurtling down the hill, unable to make the upcoming curve, airborne they were as they sailed off the cliff, landing a couple hundred feet below in a swift river, their oxen following them to a rocky and watery grave.

Endless obstacles and beauty
Endless obstacles and beauty | Source

RESPITE

With mountains behind us and mountains in the distance ahead of us, we arrived at Fort Hall late one afternoon, white adobe brick surrounding a fairly-large fort, log buildings inside the fortifications, Shoshone teepees outside, a welcome sight for sure. The Shoshone were friendly enough, more curious than anything else. Abandoned wagons sat along the wide banks of the swift Snake River, each in various stages of disrepair. We soon found out why.

The chief trader of the Hudson Bay Company’s fort, a Mister Grant, was discouraging at best.

“Too rough ahead, folks, you’re better off turning around or going on with your animals but no wagons. I’ll be glad to trade you flour for your wagons, but only a fool would take those wagons through the Blues.”

Jackson approached us as Grant finished his appeal.

“Still singing that stale song, Grant?” Jackson said. “You said the same thing last year when I came through with twenty-five wagons, and twenty-four of them are safely settled in the Willamette Valley as we speak. Just trade for what’s needed, Grant, and let the politicians do battle over who owns this country and who has a right to it. I’ve got no beef with you British, so let’s keep this nice and friendly.”

“I’m just trying to do what’s right by these folks, Jackson. It wouldn’t be right to let them continue without knowing the dangers that are waiting for them.”

Jackson spit on the floor of the trading post.

“We’ve lost twenty-two men, women, and children, Grant. You don’t think these folks know about the dangers?”

There was nothing to be said after that. Our wagons moved west the next morning, aiming for the distant mountains, the snow forgotten as the desert heat pounded down upon our spirits.

Turning Northwest

It didn’t seem right, a desert, sun pounding down, two days after snow, snowy peaks ahead of us, what kind of godforsaken mess were we heading into? Our children, dammit all to hell, our children no longer smiled, dirt-caked faces looking at me each night, silently begging me to make it right for them.

“How much longer, Joshua?” Laura asked me one night as we made a slight shift to the northwest.

I told her I didn’t know.

“I guess we should be happy just to be alive,” she said, no happiness in the sound of that statement.

Later, after dinner.

“The children, Joshua . . . I worry so about the children.”

“Say the word right now, woman, and we’ll turn tail and go back to Fort Hall,” and I heard the anger in my voice and felt instantly sorrowful.

“I’m sorry, Laura,” and I took her in my arms. “I’m sorry for the whole damned mess. For what? For free land and constant fear, and it’s all my damned fault.”

“Stop your cussin’, Joshua. You’re a God-fearing man and I won’t have you changing because of this country. We’ll make it and we’ll be better for it, and that’s the end of that discussion.”

The Blues in the distance
The Blues in the distance | Source

Why Do They Call Them the Blues?

My daughter cried that night, but God bless her, she woke up the next morning to jays calling with a smile on her face.

“The birds are happy we are here, Papa,” she told me, and it damned near broke my heart.

In the distance mountains rose, at first a light shade of gray, but as the sun rose they turned black and then an unnatural blue.

“The Blues up ahead, pilgrims,” Jackson told us. “That odd color means a forest fire, God’s own way of keeping the population manageable,” and he spit on the ground and laughed at his humor. “We’ll be hoping that fire burns itself out by the time we get there, or we’ll have one hell of a time crossing through those peaks.”

“He’s an uncouth man, Joshua,” Laura said as Jackson rode up ahead.

I looked down on her. I didn’t like her color that morning.

“You feeling all right, Laura?”

“A little under the weather, husband, but don’t you be worrying. Let’s get those oxen moving. We have a new home to settle.”

I looked at the Blues, then at my ashen wife. The jay kept screeching, and twenty yards to our right two elk broke cover and jumped a stream.

“Everybody and everything is a little jumpy this morning,” I said mostly to myself. Saying it out loud didn’t rid me of the unease.

Two To Go

I’m feeling two more chapters to go. I’ve got new stories to develop, and I’ve taken these pilgrims just about as far as I care to at this time. See you next week as our fearless family crosses the Blues and lowers down into modern day Eastern Washington. The Mighty Columbia awaits them!

Thank you so much for following along on this journey. It is my first real attempt at historical fiction. I feel like I rushed it a bit, but I can always go back and expand later.

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Michael my friend. You perfectly summarized the journey, as I knew you would.

      Peace, my brother!

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 2 weeks ago

      Now I understand that the pilgrim's goal is sanctifying people and giving them strength, of their hope to become reality. I admire the beautifully described spiritual/mental support throughout the group. For me, this serial is a reality and not fiction. ( I have to admit .)

      Pax vobiscum .

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Lawrence! That's what I was aiming to accomplish,so I appreciate your comment.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      The story feel like it's got a good blend of factual information woven into it to make it feel authentic, it doesn't feel like you 'rushed' it.

      You've taken us not just on a journey across the USA, but also back in time, and in a way that feels authentic, we're right there in the wagon with Joshua and his family, and what a journey it's been.

      Sad to read it ending.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 5 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you so much, Vellur, and thank you for your friendship over the years.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 6 weeks ago from Dubai

      Enjoyed the journey and two more to go, going to catch up.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 8 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      You're a hard woman to please, Jackie, and I love it! Thank you! I'll see what I can do.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 8 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

      I've loved it and will enjoy however much more you add I know. You know you can't wrap it up in two more chapters. Three or four maybe. We have to see them settled in!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well then Dora, you would definitely be inspired in this state we live in. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm on the other side of the spectrum, Shannon! I can't imagine living somewhere like Texas....it might place about 45th on my list of places to live in the U.S.....but more power to you. :) We are in a pretty mild area. It might snow once or twice each winter, about six inches at a time, but it's usually gone in two or three days.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      I sympathize with the pioneers having their down time. It's all in the cycle of life. Still, I couldn't help picturing the near and distant mountains. Hills inspire me.

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 2 months ago

      In case you hadn't noticed, I am a fan of historical fiction. I have been since my dad's mom would read books and pass them into me. Something about the past that fuels the imagination. It always leaves me wondering what it was really like, especially when I research on my own to separate some of the realities from the romance or has become in pop culture. From era to era...always interesting. Just think, one day our lives will be imagined in someone's history.My kids seem to already think I am older than dirt when they ask about certain things. LOL

      Oh, and I can't even imagine snow in August! Sometimes it is still in the 70s in December here. We get the occasional ice storm and cold, but no blizzards and not even snow that amounts to much. Of course, when it does snow, everything shuts down. My kids always say they want to grow up where I did to experience a real snow day, but they have no idea it rarely closed for now. Had to be white out conditions. They would probably be in heaven, though, considering they have never seen more than an inch, if that much, on the ground all over the place. When I was a kid, my grandma lived near a corn field and the wind would blow the drifts up over her house. Anyway, can't even imagine snow in August in Illinois!! I love the idea of mountains and their beauty, but you make me glad I don't reside there permanently. I would have to adjust big time. Haha.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Sis, I will do that and whatever it is, thanks in advance.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you dear Maria! I'll get the little family to Oregon safe and sound. I promise.

      Hugs and love

      bill

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 2 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      I'm also hopeful that Laura is 'in the family way' dear Bill.

      Thanks for sharing your plans with us. I can hardly wait to see what your muse has in store for us next. Love, Maria

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      brief (and rude) interjection. You'll recall a while back I asked for your address. Heads Up keep an eye on your mail this week. Hugs.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      MizB, we are doing our best to share our wetness with our friends across the country. Don't try to thank us! LOL As for your husband, we tend to reap what we sow. :) Thanks my friend.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 months ago

      Bill, the stories I've heard and read about crossing the Rockies in a wagon scare the s**t out of me. I don't think I could have made it even in my tougher young days. It must have been heart breaking to see so many of your friends and allies die. You've done a great job with the descriptions, and I agree that we must let Laura live through this ordeal. You sent your chilly wet weather down here to us, didn't you. It's raining and will be all week but at least we won't have to water our little 100 sq. ft. garden.

      Gotta give you a laugh for today. My husband tried one of his hot peppers yesterday for the first time and complained for a couple of hours about burning his mouth. I asked him why he was complaining (he's a hot pepper freak, you know). I think it was the tabascos. LOL

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well of course there's more trouble on their way, Zulma! LOL All I'm guaranteeing is that they will be alive when they reach Oregon.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Never heard of it, Rasma, but I'll check it out and talk about it in the Mailbag next week. Thanks for the tip.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 2 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      Hope to find them all safe and happy in their new home. Looking forward to more. Now a bit off topic. Just heard from an online friend and since I am very interested I wanted to know what you think. They started posting on Virily.com and apparently they pay over there for original content. If I knew that this was a good site to join I would and perhaps this could be an outlet for some of my dad's stories. I still post on NIUME but of course it is just for my love of writing now. Please let me know.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      LOL..Moose and elk are two different animals. Never mess with a moose; they are nasty creatures with unpredictable tempers. Elk are just extra-large deer and fairly docile.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 2 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Cor, an obstickle just for me? You're too kind.

      As to your elk there in the Rockies, I thought Yanks called them 'moose' (now where would I have heard that?.Not mouse or even mousse but something that sounds pretty much like it. Wouldn't fancy a strawberry mouse or a chocolate moose, would you?)

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 2 months ago from United Kingdom

      Well, that is a relief. I'd like to relax knowing that, but I can't. I feel like there's more trouble on the way before I can finally rest.

      I guess that what these pioneers must have felt like.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you RoadMonkey! As horrible as things like the wagon falling were, I think the greatest obstacle was trying to maintain sanity for six months of harsh travel, and the fear always lurking in the background.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I'll see what I can do, Pop! LOL Glad you're invested in the story. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Copy that, Sis! As long as it ain't me, neither! or either? Damn, I'm losing it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Linda! I've had a fascination with that journey for a long time, so most of the photos are fairly accurate with regards to what the country looks like.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Genna! I just started writing that new series. I had the itch so got an early start on it. I hope you like it when I publish it.

      You are too kind, and I greatly appreciate you.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Alan! I know absolutely nothing about the history of Australia. Hopefully someone will write that story you suggested. I would love to read it.

      A real stinker of an obstacle? I think I can conjure one up, just for you. :)

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 2 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Pile on the pressure, Billy boy! People wouldn't have gone all that way west through 'Injun' territory, field and fountain, moor and mountain if it wasn't worth the effort.

      In the early days us Brits went west, then after 1776 it was way east to Oz and the Blue Mountains down under, either as settlers or convicts. They weren't far back from the coast, either, but settlers went west to leave the coast for the Outback, and not in wagon trains either. Maybe one of our HP friends in Oz could put together a tale of settlers there, complete with the colourful 'Strine'. No 'Injuns', just Aborigines. It was the snakes and spiders that made up for hostiles.

      Well told as usual, Bill. Only two more to go? There's got to be a real stinker of an obstacle on the way to Oregon that takes up a whole episode, surely?

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 2 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Just when we think that nature -- human and wild -- couldn't visit any more challenges to these settlers, yet another comes along, again and again. You have brought the unknown, the unimaginable, into clear and powerful view with your writing, Bill. Jackson may be harsh, but he knows he's doing. We mourn for those who didn't make it, and keep prayers and hope for Joshua, Laura and their children, and those who have managed to survive.

      I also look forward to your new series, but will miss this one...it's a hard act to follow, Bill, but you will do it with ease. :-)

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I was worried about Laura until I read the other comments. She may be a fictional character, but I want her to reach Oregon safely! The photos that you are using in this story are lovely.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Right....any of the women,,,,,,,,,,,as long as it AIN'T ME!!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 2 months ago

      I'm with FP. Let Laura be pregnant!!!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Susan! I appreciate you stopping by.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 2 months ago

      What a terrible sight for them all to experience, that wagon and the long fall. Those kinds of scenes and deaths must have stayed with them the rest of their lives. I had always heard of the pioneers being tough but never before realised just HOW tough. Amazing story telling. Glad to hear the whole family makes it through.

    • Susan Sears profile image

      Susan Sears 2 months ago

      Loved the story ...I have not read all your other adventures that you take with the family on the Oregon trail but I will be going back to read them all!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Nah, Zulma, I won't harm Laura. It's just a little dramatic teaser. LOL Rest assured Laura will make it to Oregon.

      But thanks for caring about her.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      They were such obedient, hard-working creatures, those oxen. Very tame, or so I'm told. I'd like to see one up close some day. :) Thanks Flourish!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Never fear, Lori! I like Laura too. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Sis, I promise, Laura will survive this ordeal, and thank you for caring about my characters. My endless energy is not what it once was, but my imagination is still going strong.

      Hugs from Olympia, Sis!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Mary! Those pictures were taken at Yellowstone, my favorite place on Earth. Glad you liked them.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Linda, I, for one,can't imagine what that ocean voyage must have been like.Like you said, they must have wanted that journey badly to undergo that kind of hardship. Thank you for sharing that story.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I appreciate that very much, Venkatachari M. I guarantee the family will make it to Oregon safely. Thank you!

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      Bill, I also want Laura and all her family to be safe and live happily ever-after. They suffered much already without losing hope and determination. They should get their reward of reaching their dream destination. Enjoying your story very much by becoming one with the characters.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Oh Bill, so much sadness and loss. The only thing that might equal this journey is thinking of my maternal grandparents.

      They came to this country in steerage (in the bottom hold of the ship with no food or water other than what they might have had with them, the clothes on their backs, and no toilets or beds. Imagine how dreadful their lives in Russia must have been to make this seem like a viable option?

      They arrived at Ellis Island not knowing the language, and not knowing another soul on this soil. That was just a little over 100 years ago.

      I wonder about Laura. I pray she is well; perhaps with child? Please give us a happy (or at least promising) end to this story.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 2 months ago from Brazil

      I never thought about how they got wagons down a steep slope. I can imagine the ingenuity and resourcefulness of those travelers.

      I love those first two photos, where were they taken? To cross raging wide rivers without knowing if you can make it across must have been terrifying but what were the options? None.

      You're doing a great job of capturing the misery and despair of their journey.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      No! You won't let us lose Laura! My optimistic guess is she's pregnant? The birds may be happy to see them all, but I have to wonder how much "happiness" is flowing through the tired minds and bodies of these courageous travelers?

      Bill-bro....you have endless energy.....you and your story ideas, one after the other. I get tired just imagining your schedule! Oh, but I must admit to loving the fact that you keep bringing us such fabulous tales!

      Hope you & Bev & crew have a great week-end in that Urban Wonderland of yours! Hugs to all....Paula

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 2 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      I echo what Zulma said.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

      Not the oxen too. They had no choice in this trip. I see a grim ending coming.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 2 months ago from United Kingdom

      Please tell me we're not going to lose Laura. Pleeease. We've lost too many already. I tell you I can't stand any more loss.

      I'm sorry for that outburst. I've gotten really attached to this family and I don't want to see them broken up.