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Into the Great Unknown: Chapter Ten

Updated on July 28, 2017

New Obstacles

It was strange, seeing snowy peaks, after endless weeks on the Plains, but after Fort John, that was our new reality, peaks higher than anything any of us had ever seen, reaching upwards to God himself, reminding us, daily, how unimportant we really are. A man could die in this country and no one would ever know, that’s how unimportant we really are. Its enormity is what really wears you down after so much time on the Trail. The feeling that there is no end to it, and what we are doing is pure folly, thinking we can tame this land, this land can’t be tamed, not by us, not by those before us, and not by those after us.

We killed a grizzly yesterday, after it had killed three of our party, three men off in search of game, killed themselves an antelope, skinned it, strapped it to a horse, and found themselves face to face with one-thousand pounds of snarling fur, claws so large, teeth, ripped up those men, took their bullets and kept snarling, took more bullets from those of us who came to their aid, must have taken twenty bullets before that bear crumpled and all was quiet in the valley with peaks overhead and thunderclouds forming.

Braving swift rivers
Braving swift rivers | Source

Swift Rivers

After we left the Platte we started facing fast-flowing streams and rivers, snow-melt fueling the watery fury, making each crossing an adventure at best and deadly at worst, Jackson shouting us on, urging us to keep moving, tying wagons together at times to make those crossings, still lost two wagons, more pilgrims to the roaring waters, more tears, more suffering for the survivors, fifteen total lost at that point, approaching Fort Bridger, more mountains rising up to take the place of those left behind. One day we made eight river crossings, and it was the same damned river!

We stopped for the night, six hours from Fort Bridger, licking our wounds, mourning the dead, the prairie grass gone by that point, making the feeding of oxen an added chore for depleted bodies.

“I know what the elephant is, Laura,” I said to my wife as she helped me unhook our oxen from the wagon.

“Tell me, Joshua!”

“I think, and I could be wrong, but I think the elephant, it’s not an animal, you know, but more like an experience. It’s gaining valuable experience, and what that experience does to a person. Some people see the elephant and turn tail and run. Some see it and learn from it, move forward, gain strength from the experience. That’s what we’re doing right now, with more dead, with mountains as big as this country’s dreams looming overhead, we’re seeing the elephant. What happens from here on depends on how we react to the sighting.”

Laura put her arms around me, rested her head against my chest.

“Well I sure don’t want to see that elephant again, not in this lifetime. You finish up here. I’ll get a fire going and see about dinner.”

Present-day Wyoming valley
Present-day Wyoming valley | Source

Fort Bridger

It was the sorriest fort I could ever imagine, sitting along Black’s Fork of the Green River, three or four buildings, logs and dabbled mud holding them together, with maybe twenty-five Indian lodges close by. The buildings hardly looked habitable but still, it was civilization in those parts, and the great man himself, Jim Bridger, was there to greet us and trade if we chose.

The trading center had a vast array of skins and furs, bear, deer, beaver, antelope, and countless items left by other pilgrims. Laura and I traded some flour for furs for us and our children, in preparation for the snows which would surely fall in the Blues ahead. The sun beat down something fierce, making me wonder at the folly of furs, but one look at the surrounding peaks, snow-covered at higher elevations, was all the convincing I needed to make the trade.

“Jackson has you folks right on schedule,” Bridger said as we were completing our transaction. “He’s a good man, tough for sure, but he’ll deliver as promised if you follow his advice.”

“Is it worth it, Mister Bridger?” Laura asked. “Is it worth the death, this Oregon Country we are chasing?”

Bridger spit tobacco into a can near the counter, scratched his beard, took his time answering.

“It seems to me, Missy, that you’re the only one can answer that question. Me, I love the mountains. I’m happier on horseback in a blizzard than I am in a cabin under mild skies in Oregon, but I can’t speak for you. You must have your reasons for leaving back east, and you haven’t turned back having seen the elephant, so I suspect you’ll decide that Oregon is where you were meant to be. I’ll give you one word of advice about Oregon, no charge at all for the advice. Don’t be wasting any time once you get there. The winter rains will begin in October, and once they do it will be damned miserable for a good six months, so you get a shelter built immediately. If you do that you have a decent chance at making it.”

I thanked the man for the furs and advice, took leave, and considered a land where it rains so much.

Eagles soared above us that evening. Later on, wolves sang to the half-moon. There was a chill in the air, a warning of sorts, that winter is never far away in the Rockies.

Surrounded by reminders
Surrounded by reminders | Source

The Next Day

We turned northwest that morning, while another branch of the Trail went southwest.

“Where does that trail go, Pa?” my son asked.

“California, son!”

Just then a woman climbed down off her wagon up ahead of us, a widow, her husband having died in one of them crossings. She ran off the trail screaming, leaving her young daughter sitting on the seat of that wagon. Took us all a few seconds to figure out what the hell was happening, a young slip of a thing, she was, not even one-hundred pounds, curly red hair, her skirt billowing in the wind as she ran full-speed, her screams heartbreaking to us all, Jackson on horseback chasing her down, grabbing hold of her, holding onto her, other women then reaching her, taking her in their arms, the procession halted for a good hour while the commotion and problem was handled.

In the end it was decided that Jackson would take the woman and her daughter back to Fort Bridger where hopefully she would get help. The wagons would keep moving northwest, and Jackson would catch up soon enough.

“Damned shame,” I told Laura as Jackson led the woman and daughter back the way we had come from.

“The country just became too big for her once her husband died,” Laura said. “Their dream died with him.”

A half-hour later we couldn’t see Jackson or his wards. It was as though the country had swallowed them up.

AUTHOR’S NOTE

It was not unusual for the Trail to cross and re-cross the same river several times in one day. Each crossing was dangerous, depending on the water level and swiftness of the flow. There were days the progress would only be two or three miles because of the river crossings and subsequent problems.

It also was not unusual for people to lose their minds on the Trail. For us today, it is impossible to comprehend the toll taken by the Trail. They began the trip with fear. It never left them, and many of them were one tragedy away from total panic. For some it was simply too much to endure.

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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

      Blessings to you, Michael my friend. It took a Herculean effort for every single one of them to make this journey, and there were tens of thousands who did it. Remarkable!

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 6 weeks ago

      Admirable. Following these travelers , I get a clearer picture of how the freedom and wealth of this country came to existence. Sometimes I want to be one of them and help them reach the destination safely with success. (O life, a life though "bittersweet", yet beautiful)

      Blessings my friend, blessings always.

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

      It is my pleasure, Shyron! Thank you for the kind words, my friend,and blessings to you always.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 6 weeks ago from Texas

      Bill, thank you for taking us on this trip that we can put to bed at the end of the day and still enjoy the adventure as you unfold it before us.

      Blessings my friend

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Susan, on a whim I walked part of the Oregon Trail...and kayaked another part of it...both efforts were grueling, and I knew I could stop any old time I wanted to and return to my comforts. :)

    • Susan Sears profile image

      Susan Sears 7 weeks ago

      With our comfort levels as they are today it is hard to imagine the "elephant " they faced...it truly sounds like a difficult journey.

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

      I totally agree with you, Lawrence, beyond our comprehension for sure. Thank you my friend.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 8 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      I think, with all our modern technology, motorised transport, bridges and the other transportation methods we use, it really is beyond our comprehension the difficulty these people faced, and the courage it took just to try to 'head out' for that new life out west.

      It felt like I was right there with them.

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

      Thank you so much, Maria! If I had more time I would have delved more deeply into the pain and fear but alas, we must move on.

      love,

      bill

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 2 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      This trek was surely not for the faint-hearted physically or mentally, dear Bill.

      This chapter tugged at my heart. Beautiful writing. Love, Maria

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      God, Jackie, I'm thinking valium would have been a miracle drug for anyone on that journey. LOL Great idea!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 months ago from The Beautiful South

      If they just had some valium back then for the women. Just kidding. Would not be looking forward to those snow covered mountains...and rivers!

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

      Exactly, Tamara! This story could easily be a metaphor about how we all handle struggles, worries, and yes, panic.

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

      Thank you, Michael my friend. Yes,this could easily be a metaphor showing the continued struggles of every man. Bravo, my friend.

      And blessings to you

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 2 months ago

      Can daily outlook on life be continued lethargically after this chapter?! One have to face an elephant deadly seriously. If "you"do not kill a grizzly bear , it will kill "you''... We have to fight inconsequentiality, man has been equipped with zeal and purpose and that what you are showing in these chapters to your readers, my friend. It's wonderful.

      More blessings to you.

    • profile image

      Tamara Moore 2 months ago

      Wow, the thought of being so close to panic is terrifying! The woman losing her husband, and the way it affected her is so sad. Very powerful story! It has me thinking about how others deal with panic...

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

      Peggy, that is a high compliment indeed. L'Amour was my dad's favorite author, so thank you. I tried to make this story bare bones and raw, just like the people and the times they lived in.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Your writing reminds me of the Louis L'Amour books I have read which, by the way, is a compliment. Those venturous souls who traveled and settled in the west were hardy souls! Your writing brings this to life.

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

      That's an interesting question, Larry! I mean they must have when saber-tooth tigers walked this land, right? That kind of DNA must still be in them to some extent, right?

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

      Thank you very much, Debangee! Much-appreciated.

    • Debangee Mandal profile image

      DEBANGEE MANDAL 2 months ago from India

      Wonderful descriptions of the snowy peaks, the swift rivers and streams. It creates a beautiful background for the story. Then comes the poor woman. I really pity her.

      Really enjoyed it. I'll wait for the next.

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 months ago from Oklahoma

      You mention grizzled attacks. I've always wondered if you go back in time if animals saw humans as more of a food source and have evolved away from it?

      Anyway, I always enjoy this trips into your imagination, friend:-)

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

      Tis true, Mary! Guns were necessary back then, just another tool to help a family to survive the harsh conditions, and hunting was for survival and not sport....never sport....until the government started paying buffalo hunters to wipe out the species.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 2 months ago from Brazil

      I can understand the woman's reaction, panic stricken and not knowing what to do. I wonder if it had been her who died, would her husband had the courage to continue?

      Regarding the bear, my father shot a bear in Alaska back in the 50's before I was born. We had it as a rug (head and claws still on) when I was growing up. Only in the last few years it was given away to a good home.

      Having lived outside the US for most of my adult life, I have a different take on hunting than I did when I was growing up. In your story, obviously, all the wagons would have carried guns and ammo as it was necessary for protection from animals of all kinds, including man.

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

      It does for sure, Alan! The sheer effort it took just to go about a "normal day" was Herculean at times. Those people had more moxie than I'll ever have.

      Thank you my friend!

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

      Interesting analogy, Shyron, and I can see why you think of that. Very interesting. Well, thank you, and blessings always.

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

      LOL...afraid of weeds....you are too funny!

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

      I'm glad to hear that, Flourish! Thanks a bunch for being here.

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

      It was an interesting expression, Sis, one which found it's way into American speech about 1800, but then disappeared by 1900 for whatever reason. I've always remembered it because I think it is so unique.

      Anyway, Happy Saturday, and hugs coming your way from Olympia.

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

      You are very welcome, Linda! Thank you! I feel the same about your articles.

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

      I'm glad, Pop! Thanks a lot.

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

      The bear story, Rasma, was taken from the Lewis & Clark journals. They encountered their first grizzly, and it took more than 20 bullets to kill it.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 2 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      Well that was exciting. Stupid bear had to kill those guys. I have to agree that there are times I think I might lose it but in circumstances like that I might really go off the wall. That lady will be better off not going further. Anyway looking forward to see what else lies ahead.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 2 months ago

      I am totally immersed in the journey.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I appreciate not only the fictional story but also the education about real life and history that I'm getting. Thanks for creating this tale, Bill.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Bro, Oh Lord, have we seen a few elephants in our day? I love what the elephant turned out to be and wonder why I didn't take a guess. If we take a quick glance over our own shoulders, there stand our elephants in places where we met them...& where they block us from going backward. Awesome bill. You blow me away, bro. Deep, very deep.

      No more bears for me, it's late at night & time for bed. Your great tale is nothing like Goldilocks & the 3 Bears.....your bears are real-life mean. Anxious for next chapter. Sis

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

      Very much enjoyed this along with the author's notes.

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 2 months ago

      I don't know, Bill. I don't go into the woods that often. I'm afraid of weeds! But, of course, I assume that's a yes. LOL

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 2 months ago from Texas

      I think of the Trail of Tears, when I read this, But it was not the Native Americans who chose to leave everything the owned and go on a trail, without a dream ahead.

      I enjoy reading this story.

      Blessings my friend.

    • alancaster149 profile image

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

      Water, eh? Can't live without it, but it can wreck hopes and lives. There was a film with Richard Widmark about the Oregon Trail, where to get down to a river they lowered wagons and horses on pulleys... Of course the exercise ended in tears, but in the end some of them got there having fought off the wildlife (bears and several members of the big cat family) as well as 'Injuns'.

      Makes the tail end of the Industrial Revolution seem tame, don't it (combating the Rockies as opposed to combating the smog and the mills, mines and them new-fangled railways).

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

      It sure does, Lori! They were made of tougher stuff than this boy, for sure.

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

      Ah, Venkatachari M, that's a twist I hadn't thought of. What if Jackson died? How would the wagon train ever make it? Thanks for feeding my imagination.

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

      Thank you Mike! Better them than me.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Shannon, your determination to catch up is admirable. :) Thanks so much! Are bears edible? Do bears poop in the woods? LOL

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 2 months ago

      Look at me!! All caught up and reading relatively soon after publication this time. LOL. Nice touch with the author's note and information at the end. I am not surprised that they crossed the same river several times, considering the way rivers slither like snakes. Nor am I surprised that people lost it out there attempting to make such difficult journey. I am,however, surprised there was no mention of making a meal of the bear. Are bears edible? Haha. Or of skinning it for a rug or blanket. Looking forward to a happy conclusion. ;)

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 2 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Bill - I enjoyed stopping by to see how the travelers were getting along. That certainly was a time of hardy people and untold challenges. Get storytelling, my feet hurt.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      It's really a rough and dangerous trail with so many problems and as many death tolls. I am worried about Jackson and waiting to see whether he returns safely or not.

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 2 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Poor woman. My heart went out to her. The trail was unforgiving it seems. My hat goes off to the men and women who made it to their destination. It says a lot of their tenacity and hope for a better life. Such a good story, Bill.

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

      Linda, even though I am fascinated by that time in history, there is no way I would want to attempt it as the person I am now. However, knowing me, I would have signed up for the trip had I lived back then. That's just my nature.

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

      Zulma, there is no way for me to do justice to the kind of hardships those people lived through. It is amazing to me more of them didn't go crazy on the journey. Poor thing indeed!

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

      RoadMonkey, I don't think there is any possible way for them to have known what they were attempting. Even if they talked to someone ahead of time who made the journey, there is no way that words can describe that kind of hardship.

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      RoadMonkey 2 months ago

      An amazing journey. I wonder whether they would have attempted it if they had known the elephant beforehand. What a price has been paid.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 2 months ago from United Kingdom

      Oh my God, that poor woman. I guess the elephant was too much for her. I can't even imagine how terrified her child must have been seeing her only parent like that. I hope she didn't her Mom to her demons. Poor thing. :(

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      Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, as I was reading this installment I was reminded of a series that was on PBS about 15 years ago.

      "Frontier House" took 3 families, each group assigned 160 acres of land (I think the filming was in Montana). They had to build their own homes, raise animals, plant, harvest and live as the settlers did. No modern conveniences of any kind.

      They lived their through spring, summer and fall and at the end the producers assessed the progress of each family and whether or not they would have survived the winter based on the sturdiness of their house, the food they had stored for the winter, etc.

      It was fascinating--and it let me know that I was born in the correct time and place. I sure wasn't cut out for living under such harsh conditions.

      I'm looking forward to seeing this family make it safely to Oregon. And then, maybe some day you'll take us back to them?

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

      Aww, thanks Eric! You and me both. I can't even imagine what it was like...no way, no how. I think I'll take another sip of my mocha and contemplate that for a moment. :) Have a great weekend!

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

      Very difficult for me to comprehend the exhausting mental suffering. I sure can see me running off like that poor lady. It is so good of you to share this story with us. Thank you for this gift.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks Janine! I'm about ready to end this journey as there is another series I want to write badly. LOL I suspect this group will make it to Oregon in the next couple weeks. Have a great weekend.

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      Janine Huldie 2 months ago from New York, New York

      Loved seeing this short story back for more this Friday and couldn't agree more with your final assessment from all I learned in history class back in the day. Happy Friday now, Bill!!