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Into the Great Unknown: Chapter Four

Updated on May 25, 2017

Thanks for Coming Back

I’ve included links to the first three chapters in case some of you are just arriving on this journey. Thanks to all of you for following along. I hope you know how important you are to me.

The pioneers have just left the safety of civilization, and are now wandering through Kansas. Let’s see what is up with them today.

Deadly crossing
Deadly crossing | Source

Two Days, One Dead

It only took two days to lose our first companion on the Trail, crossing the Delaware River, fifty men with shovels, digging down the bank so the wagons could cross, backbreaking work for damned sure, finally got the job done by ten that morning, got three wagons across and then the fourth tipped over, threw the driver, Hank Jackson from Tuscaloosa, threw him clear of the wagon but snapped his neck in the fall, his body laying in the shallow waters, head turned unnaturally, looking west, oddly, three hours spent righting the wagon for Jackson’s wife and daughter, digging a grave, short prayer service, then west, northwest towards the Big Blue.

That was a sobering experience for sure, barely out of shouting distance from Elm Grove and already one dead, just crossing a damned river, no Indian attack, no grizzlies, just a damned river.

The rolling hills of Kansas were lush in green, the prairie grass waist-high on the adults, white puffs of clouds soaring up above, grasses leaning with the wind, in concert, as if they all agreed they should be looking southeast on that particular day. Our son was riding alongside me, him being too young to walk all the miles facing us, and it being his first dead body he was appropriately quiet as the oxen pulled us further away from Hank Jackson’s cross. I didn’t know how to approach the topic of death with him. He saved me the trouble as we were passing a grove of elm trees, thunderheads rising up ahead of us, like giant clouds of smoke rising from the grasses.

“What happens when a man dies, Pa?” he asked, his face scrunched in concern.

Laura was walking behind the wagon with our daughter. She couldn’t save me from that question.

“Samuel, I don’t rightly know. Preacher men tell us we go to heaven if we’ve lived a good life, but since I’m still alive I can’t tell you for certain, and that’s the truth, son.”

He thought that over as the elms fell behind us and one more of the endless small hills rose up to greet us. The oxen continued to plod forward, the wagon swaying, bouncing, testing this man’s spine and making me wish for some cushioning of any sort.

“If there is a heaven, Pa, do you think there’s pain there? Is Mister Jackson still hurtin’?”

“No, Samuel, I don’t believe he’s feeling any pain at all. Pain is for the living to endure, son. What I want you to do, once we stop for the night, is I want you to go to the Widow Jackson and ask her if there are any chores you can do for her. I suspect she is feeling some serious pain right now and would appreciate a kind gesture from you.”

“All right, Pa!”

The land stretches before them
The land stretches before them | Source

Broken Axles and Dusty Indians

The sun was high, probably noon or a little later, when one of the lead wagons broke a rear axle. There weren’t much to be done about that, axles requiring lumber and fittings, none of which we had. The wagon would be left behind, belongings and all, the family following the train on foot until we arrived at the first fort.

During the delay we saw our first Indians, two lone riders, maybe five-hundred yards in the distance, sitting atop their horses on a small knoll, just watching us. They didn’t seen hostile, more curious than anything else, ramrod erect, like a painting in some museum. Jeremiah Jackson held a confab with Doctor Elijah and then rode out, solo, to talk to the visitors.

Things were quiet the entire length of the wagon train, all of us no doubt thinking the same thing, where there are two Indians there must be more, what were their intentions, would this spot be where we all died, tall grass swaying, mournful howl of the warm wind, hawks overhead, witnessing our demise.

Jackson reached the Indians, spent a few moments gesturing with his hands, trying to communicate, and then he turned his horse back towards the train and the Indians followed him. Up and down the train men reached for their muskets, which prompted Dr. Elijah to ride the length of the train shouting to “PUT THE MUSKETS DOWN,” and men did as they were told.

Our visitors stayed with us for fifteen minutes, noble men on horseback, not speaking, black hair flowing in the wind, dust caking their faces, watching us all, taking it all in, finally accepting an offering of tobacco from Jeremiah, nodding at us, turning their horses and riding away. I could feel, more than hear, a sigh of relief as the two men rode out of sight. Doctor Elijah addressed us all in a shout.

“Keep your muskets close by. Those two were friendly but we don’t want to be fools about all this. There’s no need to be afraid, now. Not once on my first covering of this trail did I see a hostile Indian. Still, be alert. Now let’s get moving. We’ve had too many delays already and the sun isn’t waiting for us.”

Firestarters
Firestarters | Source

Reflections in the Night

By eight that night we had circled wagons and begun camp preparations. Some men went off in search of game. Wood was gathered from a copse of trees along a stream bank, and in short time campfires came to life. Laura went off to ask the family who had lost their wagon to eat with us, and Samuel paid a visit to the Widow Jackson. Pretty soon I saw him fetching water from the stream for her, his blond hair like a lantern down along the stream.

Darkness crept upon us, silently, gradually, then in the blink of an eye it was totally dark, catching me off-guard. I shook my head to clear my thoughts, no need for foolish illusions, no magic tricks, just Nature doing what Nature does, light to dark to light again. A half-moon could be seen south, floating in an ocean of stars, and in short order the coyotes were howling, and I know every man, woman, and child was feeling what I was feeling, the realization that we were alone in a strange land, cut-off from the safety of the modern world, cut-off from anything that ever tethered us in the past. The wind turned cool as the smell of cooked food drifted among us. Conversations could be heard, an occasional laugh, across the way the haunting sounds of a harmonica, remembered visions of two Indians, where there were two there were bound to be more, all weighing down on us, all filling us with excitement and wonder.

“The trees are disappearing with every step we take, Joshua,” my wife said as she cleaned up after our meal. “What will we use for fuel for our campfires once the trees are gone?”

“Jeremiah says we use buffalo dung, says it makes a fine fire-starter, just build a small pile of it, use grass for tinder, and it burns just fine.”

“Buffalo dung?”

“Yep!”

“Good God Almighty,” she said, and then laughed that laugh I’ve loved for nigh-on to fifteen years. “What have we got ourselves into?” she said, then laughed again.

The End of the Day

The folks with the broken axle, Martha and Thomas Hardy, spent the night around our fire, somber people, dreams broken only three days into the journey, facing all manner of uncertainty, their anchor cut loose, them drifting on the open land. They were mostly silent other than to thank us for our kindness, and I didn’t have any words which would take away their fear and sadness.

We all slept around the fire that night, to ward off the chill and to ward of the pressing weight of fear, the campfires providing comfort and a false-sense of security. Laura pulled close to me under the blanket as the coyotes kept up their serenading, perhaps singing a funeral dirge for the dead behind us, or for those who would be dying shortly.

“Buffalo dung?” she whispered in my ear.

“Yep!”

“Sweet Jesus,” she said, giggling. “I do love you, Joshua. I must if I’m going to be cooking with buffalo dung.”

And a little later she said . . .

“There’s what, about two-thousand steps in a mile? Two-thousand steps multiplied by two-thousand miles. What’s that total, Joshua?”

“Pretty close to four-million, if I remember my sums correctly.”

“Sweet Jesus!”

SEE YOU NEXT WEEK

For sure there will be some drama next week. Stay tuned, and thanks for the visit.

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 25 hours ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Susan! I can only imagine the perils...words can only do so much.

    • Susan Sears profile image

      Susan Sears 47 hours ago

      Such an scary adventure...I am looking forward to the next chapter. You paint the picture quite well of the perils that these pioneers faced.

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

      You are very kind, Jackie! Thank you so much.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

      This certainly did take some very brave people. You have painted the picture so well.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Incredibly tough women, Jo! I have a couple in my deep family too. I simply don't know how they did it.

    • jo miller profile image

      jo miller 4 weeks ago from Tennessee

      I'm interested in seeing how the Widow Jackson fares. I found a story at the local historical society about my great, great, great, great grandmother who came in a covered wagon with her two young children to settle near where I now live now after her husband was killed in war. As my husband likes to say, the story may or may not be true, but I like to share it with my granddaughters, reminding them that we come from strong women. So I hope the Widow Jackson thrives.

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

      I could probably do that with my phone, Eddy, but I can't figure out how. LOL I'm glad you can, so thank you dear friend.

      Peace and love always

      bill

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 weeks ago from Wales

      I have actually read this chapter before but don't seem to have ;left a comment. Never mind can soon remedy that. Another great chapter and so looking forward to the next one. Love this story . The good news also being that I have a new phone and can actually sign into Facebook,read and comment that way now which will mean that I won't get so behind with my reading. Take care Billy and lots of love from Wales.

      Eddy.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Really, Shannon? Copse? I pulled that one out of my magic hat. First time I've ever used it in a story. Glad to be of assistance. LOL

      Thanks for catching up. I know you're busy and I appreciate it.

    • shanmarie profile image

      Shannon 7 weeks ago from Texas

      Hey, Bill, you taught me a new word. I have never in my life seen the word copse and had to look it up. Ha! Even the spell check in the browser doesn't like it, so I guess I don't feel quite so bad now. LOL.

      Enjoying your story so far. I hope you don't go killing off any of the main charachters now!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 7 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Sha, I used to love hiking. Even climbed a couple mountains in my day. But walking 2000 miles? It ain't happening for this boy,now or in another lifetime. LOL Thanks for the kind words, dear friend. I love historical fiction.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 7 weeks ago from Central Florida

      Sweet Jesus, indeed! My goodness, those folks had a whole lot of courage. I can't imagine traveling two thousand miles pretty much on foot and wide open to the elements to boot (no pun intended - well, maybe a little!).

      I'm enjoying this social history lesson, Bill. You're sharing these travelers thoughts and feelings with us. They don't teach that aspect in the history books.

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

      Thank you Lawrence!

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      Lawrence Hebb 8 weeks ago

      Bill

      Another great installment here.

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

      Lori, I totally agree. They went into that trip with eyes wide open, knowing there would be great suffering, and yet still willing to undertake it.

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

      I admire them as well, Michael my friend. Perhaps that is why that period has always fascinated me.

      Blessings always

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 2 months ago

      If in this series there are "crumbs" of the pioneering history of the birth of the USA so it was very hard eaten bread. So much of hardship, suffering in each experience yet every time they mount up into a new hope. I admire the group of settlers described above and their anticipation of a better future at all costs. Very useful lesson.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 2 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      I'm so thankful we don't have to suffer the same hardships our friends from the past had to. Death and destruction can happen in the twinkling of an eye. Good writing.

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

      I'm glad to hear that, Vellur! I'll try not to let you down.

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

      And blessings to you, Shyron! Well, bison dung doesn't smell after it has dried out. That I know from experience. I can't tell you about burning it. My curiosity only went so far at Yellowstone. :)

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 2 months ago from Texas

      Bill, nice chapter.

      Q. does buffalo dung smell when it is burning or does it smell only when it is not completely dried out? Just curious not interested in finding out for sure.

      Pain is for the living to endure - this is one true statement.

      Blessings always

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 months ago from Dubai

      Eager to read what is going to happen next, off to the next.

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

      I have always been fascinated by this era and this trip in particular, Maria! I'm glad you are enjoying it.

      Thank you, and love always.

      bill

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 2 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Your writing is as convincing and authentic as the videos you've shared with us, dear Bill.

      Truly a tale of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances - a compelling and satisfying story.

      Moving on to Chapter 5... Love, Maria

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

      RoadMonkey,it will immediately go viral on YouTube! LOL

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 2 months ago

      Try telling a modern home maker they have to cook with buffalo dung and check THEIR reaction!

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

      Thank you Jaye! I've been reading about this era for a great many years, and traveled about half the trail (by car, of course), so I have some feeling for what it must have been like. I really want to capture the non-romantic side of this arduous trip.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 2 months ago from Deep South, USA

      This chapter started off with a bang. Since I remember from reading historical novels years ago how much trouble and death stalked a wagon train, I was braced for it. The sadness of death and other losses is leavened with moments such as the narrator's wife laughing about using buffalo dung for a fire instead of wood. See you at the next chapter. Jaye

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

      It's true about NIUME....I guess it was expected...and I really wonder how much longer HP will hang in there, Rasma!

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

      Thank you very much, Larry!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 months ago from Oklahoma

      Wonderful work!

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 2 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      So I just got closer to that warm fire and looking forward to dinner. Looking forward to the next. I guess I will ask you right here. It was the oddest thing. I was on another site I write on and someone posted that they had received an email from NIUME that said they could no longer afford to pay anyone and that everyone had the option of downloading their work. I didn't understand a thing and then two things - one that I went into NIUME and it appeared that nothing had changed and I posted some more work and I have received nothing in my email. Do you have any information?

      For now here is that latest link on my dad. If all goes well I will also write about his life and so on.

      https://niume.com/post/332124

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

      Thank you very much, Linda! Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. :) That's what I want to convey.

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

      Thank you Sis! I want everyone to understand that even the mundane events were dangerous, tedious, and just plain hard work on that journey. Nothing was a walk in the park for those people, unless you consider walking 2000 miles a walk in the park. :) I hope you slept well in your lush accommodations, my dear friend.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      I feel so for Mrs. Jackson and child. What heavy sadness at a time when anxiety was high enough! You've made sure we realize the serious difficulty of crossing such rugged terrain. No picnic here!

      The touching conversation between father and son when Samuel's curiosity needed to be satisfied....that moved me so, bill. Dad did a wonderful job of giving his son some comfort, even wishing his wife could have done it. Typical Dad. I had to smile.

      Held my breath for just a moment with the interaction of travelers and Indians, and a sigh of relief as it appeared to go well. This is a much more nerve-racking journey than the last one you took us on, Bro. Might as well sit up tall and brave and be prepared for what may come...

      Good timing, btw...looks like I'm turning in right along with everyone...except my accommodations are preferable... G'night! Sis

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The description is very effective, Bill. Your story is definitely engaging! I'm looking forward to the next chapter.

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

      I'm guessing, MizB, but I think most of them were desperate. The cities were growing too rapidly, the economy was suffering in the 1840s...but then there were some who just couldn't ignore the call of the wild. I suspect I would have been one of them. :) Thanks as always...have a wonderful weekend.

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

      I do know that, Ruby, and I'm very grateful that you do. Thank you so much.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 months ago from Southern Illinois

      This was a beautiful episode to a story full of compassion, love and danger. I especially loved your description of the grasses leaning with the wind in concert. Thank you for sharing. As you know, I love your writing!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 months ago

      Sometimes I wonder if people were desperate or crazy to settle the West, your brave souls in this story not excepted. I had a collateral ancestor in the ill-fated Fancher Party (murdered by Mormons and Piautes), and I don't think I could have gone with them back then. I hope Laura learns to cook with Buffalo chips like the plains Indians did. I'm sure it won't impart the nice smokey flavor of mesquite, though. I will be waiting to see what happens next.

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

      Thank you for that, Flourish! It will be a tedious, dangerous, fascinating journey, hopefully reflected properly through our travelers' eyes.

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

      Thank you very much, Venkatachari M. I really appreciate you following along.

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

      Tamara, I've been to Yellowstone four times, and I can say with certainty that bison are fascinating and terrifying all at the same time. I stay in the car when they are nearby...don't even open the windows....there is always that sense that something very dangerous could happen at any second.

    • Tamara Moore profile image

      Tamara Yancosky 2 months ago from No Idea Where

      I had no idea that Bison could run 40 MPH! That's very creepy to envision a huge head, such as these great beasts have, to come storming in on someone at this rate of speed. And, their horns are intimidating, of course, too.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      Felt very sorry for the death. The child's enquiry was a touching reaction. The story is very interesting.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

      As I've said before, this series is your best. So well written. You have a big hit here and I am so excited to see what you do with it.

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

      Great uncertainty, Dora, and I think that added to the fear and apprehension. None of them truly knew what they were heading into.

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

      So glad you're enjoying this series, Bill. Thanks so much for joining the Train. We can use your expertise. :)

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

      Manatita, I like to think I'm made of the same courage and sense of adventure, but I don't know....tough people for sure, my friend.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 months ago from london

      When I think of these pioneers, I feel a real sense of pride and courage. Some died, yes, like your man here. Some Indians were nice too, interestingly enough. Most made it after a very, very long trip full of adventure. Great! So far ...

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 2 months ago from Hollister, MO

      What fun! Great writing...we can feel their concerns. Really enjoyed your selection of photos. They helped set and keep the mood of the journey. Looking forward to the next chapter.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      I feel the mood of uncertainty in the great outdoors with gesturing visitors added to the mix. Different and memorable.

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

      Thank you so much, Pop! It's a pleasure entertaining you.

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

      Thanks so much, Linda. It's kind of nice to write a story where there are no gory details. :)

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

      Tamara, you have good reason to be afraid of them. They can almost be classified as prehistoric animals, pure instinct, very little intelligence, and they can run 40 mph. If you ever go to Yellowstone, give them a wide berth and enjoy them from a distance. :) Thanks for being here.

    • Tamara Moore profile image

      Tamara Yancosky 2 months ago from No Idea Where

      Great writing! I am still looking for a particular book of yours that I am going to search for on my Kindle, about Simplicity... BTW, I have always been terribly afraid of Bison as they have such huge heads. They are so scary and mean looking. I am not personally against them, but they just scare me. I mean, I don't hate them, or anything...I am sure they mean well, but they are terrifying! I still like/love them as God's animals, though.

      Hugs,

      Tamara

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      Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, I'm so glad that you are continuing this story. I hope you get as much enjoyment in writing it as we do in reading. I'm looking forward to next week.

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      breakfastpop 2 months ago

      I feel like I am making the trip with them which is testament to your fine writing.

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

      It's my pleasure, Eric. This is one of my favorite topics, so I'm glad everyone is enjoying it. Secretly I'm just writing to please myself. :)

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

      You did, Zulma. Janine must be busy with her little girls this morning. LOL

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      Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Thank you again Bill. Amazing tale. You are weaving in and out and bobbing around tragedy and triumph like they were twin sisters. 4 million.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 2 months ago from United Kingdom

      Settled near the forts? Maybe their 'fresh start' was meant to be there and not Oregon.

      Oh, and, woo-hoo. I got the first comment. :D

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

      Good morning Zulma and thank you! I think the point of no return differed...some turned back, some settled in the area of forts along the trail, and some hitched a ride (walk) all the way to Oregon...and of course, many died.

      Anyway, I hope you have a spectacular Thursday, my friend.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 2 months ago from United Kingdom

      You can really feel the atmosphere here. I could see them all huddled around the fires. I could feel the unease and uncertainty spreading through the group. I wonder if any will turn back or have they reached the point of no return. That point must be different for everyone, though.