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Into the Great Unknown: Chapter Thirteen

Updated on September 8, 2017

The River

Eighty miles of deep water, the barges, at times, swamped by waves, threatening to sink, sandbars rising from the depths, white water rapids, eagles overhead, gulls, deer along the shoreline, watching in curiosity as we passed by, the cliffs rising thousands of feet on either side, occasionally Indians could be seen, weary of us, painted men on painted horses, women in beads, wondering about us as we wondered about them, willing to accept our arrival but filled with doubts, as they should be.

Belongings, not strapped down well, fall overboard, chests, wagon wheels, barrels of flour, racing our barges ahead, all aimed for the Pacific Ocean, it would have been a peaceful setting if not for the constant fear which we couldn’t outrun no matter how hard we tried.

Jackson’s voice above it all, urging us on, trying to calm us, shouts of warnings, shouts of encouragement, only a half-day to go, pilgrims, watch carefully now, pilgrims, aim left, aim right, watch that bar, keep an eye for rocks now, don’t you worry now, pilgrims, old Jackson’s with you, Oregon is right around that bend and then . . .

The landscape changed, dull brown to light greens, then darker greens, fir trees rising along the shoreline, the air heavier, can’t think of a better way to describe it, the air heavier, smelling of salt, the river broadening, around a final bend and blessed be, good God almighty, the log ramparts of Fort Vancouver off to the right, the northern shore British territory, activity all around it, wagons, horses, Indians, watching our barges, waving, coming down to the shoreline to help guide us in, ropes tosses, ropes secured, thank God we made it, and tears streaming down the faces of men, women, and children, hallelujah for sure!

Safe port at last
Safe port at last | Source

At the Fort

“So the rumors were true? Our friend can’t own property in the Willamette Valley?”

The man in charge of the Hudson Bay Company, John McLoughlin, shook his head.

“I’m afraid it’s so. People of color are still not recognized in the Territory. Now, mind you, we British have no such problems, and your friend, his family, and your family are all welcomed north of here on what is most definitely British land.”

“Are there any other settlers north of here?” Laura asked him.

“Another of our forts, Fort Nisqually, was built two years ago. From here it is one-hundred miles due north. I would venture to guess there are now thirty, forty people in and around that fort. More will be arriving with each year. The area known as the Puget Sound has many natural harbors, so it won’t be long before towns spout up along its shoreline. The land is good for farming, the rivers are swift for mills, and the timber reaches to the heavens if lumbering is something you might be interested in.”

“Thank you kindly for the information,” I told him, shaking his hand. “We’ll have to think on it a spell.”

We all walked down to the docks along the shoreline. The activity seemed to never end along the great river, new arrivals, new departures, ships being loaded with furs and lumber for San Francisco. We had finally made it to civilization only to find a member of our party was not wanted.

“What about the children, Joshua?” Laura asked me. She was now obviously with child, so her question was not an idle one. “Do we really want to leave civilization once more and head north, not knowing what awaits us there?”

A small boat tied up at the wharf, riding low in the water, heavy with fish.

“Do we really want to live somewhere where our best friends are not welcome?” I responded. “Our country was founded on freedom and yet George is not free because he’s a black man. That’s doesn’t sit well with me, Laura.”

“But what about our children?” she asked again, and once more I had no answer.

The river flows on without Joshua and his family
The river flows on without Joshua and his family | Source

PREPARATIONS

“Your section of land, 640 acres, is located one mile northeast of Fort Nisqually.” McLoughlin handed me official papers. “I have sent word ahead, to the fort, announcing your deed to the land. Make your first stop the fort, meet with the prefect, and he’ll get you set up. After that, your most important chore will be building shelter. It’s the last week of September. The rains will not hold off much longer, and once they begin they will be relentless. God bless you all!”

“How is the trail north of here?” I asked him.

“You will find it satisfactory for the first fifty miles. After that, and I want to be perfectly honest with you, it is less that desirable. If the rains hold off you should make it with minimal difficulty. If the rains arrive early, you’ll question the wisdom of your decision to go north. It is not a well-established trail like the one you just traversed. Only a handful of men have made the journey north, so God speed!”

No other words were necessary.

The road north awaits them
The road north awaits them | Source

Into the Great Unknown

Two days out of Fort Vancouver, all signs of civilization disappeared.

Three days out the rains found us.

Mammoth fir trees surrounded us, rising from all sides, hundreds of feet into the air, ominous in an odd way, as though they threatened us with each step we took. The rain was unrelenting, a constant downpour, soaking us, chilling us, the wagons bogging down every hour, forcing us to muscle the loads forward, one foot at a time. The first night of the rains we stopped along the banks of a river. Dry wood for a fire was impossible to find, no way to dry out, we huddled in the wagon, shivering, Laura and the children crying, me feeling the weight of the world.

What had I done?

I found my friend George standing by the river bank, in the darkness, his outline barely visible in the gloom, his shoulders slumped by the weight of it all. I stood alongside him, the falling rain and rush of river making it hard to converse.

“You didn’t have to follow me north, Joshua. This isn’t your fight, this color issue. There’s still time for you and your family to turn around and head for the Willamette Valley.”

“Seems to me, George,” I said to him, “An issue like color is everybody’s fight. Laura and me, we’ve talked about this and we’re of one mind on it. Freedom isn’t selective, or at least it shouldn’t be so. If one man is free then all men should be free. If one man is not free, then no men are free. That’s just how we see it, so there’s nothing in the Willamette Valley for us until whatever government there is sees things like we do. I’m afraid you and you wife are stuck with us as neighbors.”

I felt more than saw George nod his approval.

“A man could do much worse for neighbors,” was all he said as the hard rains continued to welcome us to the new land.

One More Chapter

We’ll get these fine folks settled in up north and then we’ll be done with this story. Thanks for sticking with it all the way. You are all appreciated!

2017 William D. Holland (aka billbuc)

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Great points, Lawrence. I'm not sure if I would be brave enough to do so. It was a monumental decision on their part for sure.

      Thank you!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 3 weeks ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Bill

      Even in today's world that would be a brave move by Joshua and his wife, to leave the country of their birth, and move to another place that they didn't really know, because of a cherished belief is both brave and noble.

      I do wonder how many made that choice, and if I'd do the same given the circumstances?

      I remember reading a novel by Noel Coward set just after WW2 about an African American soldier who was charged (by his white officer) with rape because he fell in love with a local British girl (one the officer fancied). After the war they got married and settled down in Cornwall.

      Asked why he never returned to the States after the war his reply was, "Over in the USA I'll always be black, but here, I'm just a man, neither black, or white!"

      Joshua made a brave choice, I so much hope it works out!

      Lawrence

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

      Thank you, Michael my friend. Your love of freedom shines through in your comment. Blessings to you and yours.

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 4 weeks ago

      This land is built by the finest characters a man can imagine. "If one man is free then all men should be free. If one man is not free, then no men are free." You have made me glad in this chapter my friend. God bless you always.

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

      Nice to have you along on the journey, Nithya!

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

      Thank you very much, Nithya!

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

      Hi Mary! 640 acres for a married couple....320 for individuals. Pretty good payment for those willing to risk it all. :)

      Have a great weekend and thank you!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 months ago from Dubai

      Waiting to read the next!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 2 months ago from Dubai

      Off to read the next and see how the story goes. A great tale of adventure and a fantastic story that will make an awesome book.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 2 months ago from Brazil

      Wow, 640 acres almost sounds like it was worth the trip. Was that always the amount given for travelers?

      I hope they get a roof over their heads before the heavy rains begin.

      I think the two families will be perfect neighbors.

      Great story.

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

      Thank you Susan! This is a part of history that has been forgotten...that Blacks were not welcomed in the Oregon Territory. I think it's important to acknowledge that.

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

      Aww, Shannon, thank you, and you are an easy person, and writer, to support. It is my pleasure.

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

      Tamara, that is the highest compliment you can pay a writer. Thank you!

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

      Thank you Zulma! I suspect both families will find happiness soon.

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

      Thank you Tamara! That is actually a picture of the Yellowstone River.

    • Susan Sears profile image

      Susan Sears 2 months ago

      It is sad after all the travels that he is not welcomed because of his color. You have really done well with portraying all aspects of this difficult trip.

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 2 months ago

      Hi, Bill. This is where I meant to go earlier. This story of yours is treacherous. The journey is, anyway. But you have a way of also showcasing the best in humanity. Friends like that are few and far between.

      I'll try to be back to see the conclusion to this tale. Thank you for your support of my writing for the past four years or so. I appreciate it more than you know.

    • profile image

      Tamara Moore 2 months ago

      Bill,

      When your story ends, I am going to miss the characters :-(

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 2 months ago from United Kingdom

      What a rare breed Joshua is. There aren't many who would stand by his friend the way Joshua has. I hope both families are blessed with numerous bounties.

      Thank you for taking us on the journey.

    • profile image

      Tamara Moore 2 months ago

      P.S.- I love the picture where the sun glistens upon the waters :-) It is lovely.

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

      Thank you MizB! Racism...I've heard it called our original sin....as a country we are guilty, I'm afraid, and as a country we must find a way to rectify it.

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

      Thank you Maria! Joshua and Laura are easy characters to like. They are the neighbors we all wish we had.

      love,

      bill

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

      No we don't, Dora! It keeps us from becoming complacent. :)

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

      Thank you Rasma! So am I!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 2 months ago

      Wow, Bill, I keep saying that it is hypocritical to continually point fingers at the South for racism when the whole country is guilty. Sounds like George and his family have some really good friends and I hope Joshua and his family don't regret the decision to go farther North to a more sparsely populated area. I suppose the whole area is fertile farmland though. Great story! I look forward to reading another chapter every week and although every story must end, sometimes it is bittersweet to see one end.

      A weatherman commented on TV recently that our weather here is more like October. In fact, our house got chilly and we turned up the thermostat on our AC. Have a great weekend, my friend.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 2 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      I have a feeling you will come back to this well-woven tale and expand it when you have that pocket of time needed to do it justice.

      I can't help but fall in love with Joshua and Laura thanks to your pen.

      Have a good weekend. Love, Maria

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      At first, their arrival felt like the resurrection; then the color thing took the joy away. Life eh? We never get it all at the same time.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 2 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      Looking forward to how they settle in.

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

      Thank you Linda! I can pretty much assure you that the two families will be alive when they get to the fort.

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

      Perhaps, Linda? Oh, I think we have much to learn. My concern is that we'll never learn it as a cohesive society.

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

      For sure, Flourish! That's the beauty of being a writer. I can write a story where what I would like to see in life actually happens.

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

      Sis, if I ever figure out how to double the hours in my workday, I'll be able to write all the books I have inside my head. Until then, well, I'll just have to be happy with what I can do. Sigh!

      Thank you for your thoughts...what a great sister you are!

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

      Heck, Lori, we probably climbed those fort towers at the same time. :)

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

      Thank you Tamara! This concept of freedom seems so simple to me. I don't know why it is so complicated.

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      Linda Crampton 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I'm looking forward to the conclusion of the story, Bill. I'm hoping that everyone finds happiness around Fort Nisqually.

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      Linda Lum 2 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, the story you write took place 150 years ago--how much have we progressed since then? Some, but not enough. There is still inequality, and hatred, and intolerance.

      Joshua is an admirable man, holding to his principles. I pray his decision does not put his immediate family in danger.

      Thank you again for taking us on this journey. ...perhaps we still have something to learn.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 months ago from USA

      Now that is loyalty to your principles.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 2 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Bill....we had no choice but to stick with you....you & Jackson. Once you're headed forward, there's no turning back. Each settler depended on the next and every mile seemed shorter with fellow-travelers. Even the tragedies & losses brought them closer to each other, more dependent upon the strength of the group.

      George & his family have a most precious gift in the friendship & loyalty of Joshua, Laura & their children. To find the strength and sincerity of such a bond, today~~I truly wonder but will always keep the faith. This comes to the hearts of men when (and only when) each man embraces the reality that we n-e-e-d one another, as sure as we need the air we breathe. Hanging on, hanging in there with these courageous individuals until we witness them safely in their brand new homes~~a new land they have rightfully earned by sheer desire, gut and unwavering hope.

      Laura's instinctive pull to begin nesting for the arrival of their new angel, is just months away. Joshua will settle his family, just in time, as the Hero he is.

      Your stories are magical.

      Yes, of course this is a book. It has to be. Hugs, Sis

    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 2 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Good old Fort Nisqually. Used to climb those fort towers as a kid and imagine ourselves watching for the enemy.

      Joshua is a good man and a loyal friend.

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

      Thank you Bill! Fort Vancouver is a great field trip for sure. I used to take my history classes down there for the day and they always enjoyed it.

    • profile image

      Tamara Moore 2 months ago

      Indeed, I agree with this thought that "...if one man is not free, then no men are free..." I have always taken this point of view, too.

      I also emphasized with your wisdom of "...fear which we could not outrun no matter how hard we tried..."

      This continues to be a great story of suspense, emotion, pain, and anticipation!

    • Homeplace Series profile image

      William Leverne Smith 2 months ago from Hollister, MO

      We have been to Fort Vancouver. My wife has family that settled to the north, lumbermen, not long after this story. Amazing country, for sure. thanks for sharing!! ;-)

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

      One thing for certain, RoadMonkey, is it will be difficult no matter where they end up. :) Thanks for sticking with this story.

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

      That's great, Jackie! Welcome back!

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

      Jackie, we are finally having "normal" weather, and it feels heavenly. It even showered briefly yesterday and cleared the smoke from the air. Hooray!

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 2 months ago

      A hard journey, a brave decision. I hope the end is a good one for them but life is not always fair, on the other hand, it may be the best and wisest decision ever.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Oh, and that made it work refollowing. Got the notice!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Great winding Bill. this was three chapter's worth in one! Poor Laura though. Hope it works out for her.

      We are cooling down in the south, bet you are freezing?

      Have a great weekend.

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

      Why not indeed, Eric! I would be honored to have my story read at your son's bedtime session. Thank you! This thing we call racial diversity....it seems to be widespread...gaining strength daily..so many mixed breeds, so few "pure-bloods." This just seems to be a no-brainer to me.

    • Ericdierker profile image

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

      Now I have a danged headache from crying. You are just awesome at communicating love. I preach but you bring it right into my home. I think this one might be good for my boy. He really does not yet comprehend racial differences. And he is one of 14 in his class of 30 that are of some kind of obvious mixed race. He will be entranced. Seeing how we read together for 30 minutes a day why not yours.

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

      Thanks Janine! I'll stop writing this story with mixed emotions. I love telling it, but I feel it is only half-finished and deserves to be a book.

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      Janine Huldie 2 months ago from New York, New York

      They are almost there now and definitely look forward to seeing them settled soon. Thanks for sharing and Happy Friday now to you, too Bill!! :)