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Into the Great Unknown: Chapter Three

Updated on May 19, 2017

Can You Imagine?

This story actually came from research I was doing for a coloring book, The History of Tumwater, Washington Coloring Book. The original founders of the City of Tumwater were all members of the Simmons Party, who came across the Oregon Trail, from Missouri, to find a better life in the Oregon Territory.

There was one paragraph I read during that research, one simple paragraph, but it was amazing and profound. When the Simmons Party finally made it to the area now known as Tumwater, they needed shelter for the upcoming winter, so they set about making a communal home for twenty of them. The home was made of sixteen-foot fir logs, stacked ten high. That’s all that paragraph said, kind of a toss-away paragraph, one of thousands of facts, but if you stop and think about it, a sixteen foot first-or-second growth fir log is one big mother, heavier than hell itself, and each wall had ten of those logs stacked on top of each other. So let’s do the math…four walls, ten logs each, that’s forty sixteen-foot logs felled, limbed, shoved and pulled into place by human willpower and muscle…no modern machinery, no nothing.

That’s when I decided this story needed to be written.

Awaiting the crossing
Awaiting the crossing | Source

Arrival at Elm Grove

We made it a day earlier than expected. Once the rains ended we made good time, and we arrived in the town of Elm Grove, Missouri, on May 2nd, 1845, two days before the scheduled crossing of the Missouri River. It was a late start for making the trip, the weather postponing things. It weren’t much of a town, Elm Grove, various shacks, a general store, probably no more than one-hundred full-time residents, but it had swelled markedly on that May day, wagons pretty much dominating the landscape, fellow travelers making last minute purchases before the journey began.

We found out the leader of the group was Dr. Elijah White, a Presbyterian minister who had made the trip two years earlier. Me and George found him down by the river, studying the muddy water, standing knee-deep in it, shaking his head, muttering a fair amount of curses for a man of God, a short man, dark hair, broad shoulders and a kind face.

“Good God Almighty, we’ll lose half these pilgrim just crossing this sonofabitch,” he was saying to a tall man in buckskins standing next to him. “Ain’t half of them got the brains they were born with, otherwise they would have stayed on their farms and growed corn the rest of their lives.”

“Excuse me,” I shouted when I was within ten feet of the shore. “I’m told you might be Dr. White. If that’s so, my family and friends will be joining you on the journey.” I extended my hand. “My name is Joshua Brewster, that’s my wife, Laura, daughter and son over by the wagon. The wagon behind ours is George’s.” I pointed to my friend standing next to me. “He’s got his wife and son with him. We’d be mighty obliged if we could travel along with your group.”

The kind face and the man in buckskins turned at the sound of my voice. They didn’t say anything, just took our measure, making silent calculations, determining our fate according to standards I’d never be privy to. Then the smaller of the two smiled, stepped up on the bank, and took my hand.

“The name is Dr. Elijah White, and if you’re fool enough to make this trip then we’ll be happy to have you join us. My friend here,” he said, pointing at the tall man, “is Jeremiah Jackson, formerly employed by the American Fur Company and now our scout and my second in command.” He turned and looked at the river again, spit on the ground and muttered something I couldn’t hear. “We’re charging one dollar per head on our train. We all meet tonight, seven o’clock, to go over the laws of the Trail and such. You’ve got the rest of the day and tomorrow to gather up what supplies you’ll need. Don’t know what you’ve got with you, but you’ll be needing about two-hundred pounds of flour per person, one-hundred pounds of bacon per, corn meal, coffee, dried fruits, those are the basics. We’ll hunt what we can along the way, pick up more supplies once we reach the forts out west. We’re going to travel hard and fast since we are off to such a late start. We sure don’t want to get stuck in the Rockies in an early snowfall.” He spit again, smiled.

“Both your families are welcome.” He looked at George. “Black men are rare on the Trail, but not unheard of. You’ll find things a bit more tolerant on the trip. I won’t stand for any trouble, certainly not about a man’s color. Can’t rightly tell you what you’ll encounter in Oregon, but I guess it can’t be any worse than what you’ve seen already. You’ll be treated like any white man by me and Jeremiah. Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to make the rounds and see to some preparations.”

And just like that we were signed on as members of the 1845 great adventure.

Saying goodbye to the green of Missouri
Saying goodbye to the green of Missouri | Source

Getting Ready

There was only one place to buy supplies and that was Afferton’s General Store. We spent the rest of that day buying what we figured we would need. The store was short on bacon, only about half what we needed, us being late and all, but Mister Afferton told us to buy extra coffee and we could trade with other travelers along the way, so we followed his advice. Prices for the food were steep but not unfair, and I got a good deal on a Springfield musket and skinning knife. Laura found some cloth she said we needed for clothes. Lisa had her eye on a bonnet, and I could never say no to my daughter, and Samuel asked for, and received, his own skinning knife, the knife being almost as big as he was at the time. The store owner’s wife was a little cold to George, downright rude, I thought, evidently black not being her favorite color on a man, but George didn’t seem to mind and we had no real trouble.

We all gathered in the fading light around a big fire at seven. It was a gentle evening, the kind of evening makes a man dream of better things, hopeful that the dreams weren’t ones of foolishness. A breeze kicked up off the river, the fire’s sparks floated off to the east, and the murmuring of the crowd died down as Dr. White stood on top of a wooden crate to address us all. Just before he spoke, thunder rolled in from the west.

“Evening, folks,” he said. “As near as I can reckon there are two-hundred and forty of us making this trip, and I appreciate the faith you have in me and Jeremiah. Now the plan was for us to leave on the fourth, but if you all can be ready to leave by afternoon tomorrow, the third, I would appreciate it. The grasses are finally growing on the Plains, so the oxen won’t starve, and I would like to spend a few hours tomorrow on the Trail, working out the kinks, getting a good seven or eight miles in before nightfall. That seven or eight miles might make a big difference in five months. Are there any objections to us leaving Elm Grove tomorrow at two?”

Heads shook in the fading light and no objections were made.

“Good, then, that’s settled. Now, about the rules. There is no law west of that river over yonder, no judge to dole out punishments or settle disputes. I serve as the judge on my train, but this is also a democracy, so you will all play a part in any sentencing we have to give if there is any trouble. I’ll come around tomorrow with assigned camp chores, and also with a list of those who will be guards at night. We don’t expect any Indian trouble, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. Most deaths on the Trail happen from accidents, not from Indians, so be careful and be prepared to help each other as much as possible. If there are deaths, and I suspect there will be, we’ll stop long enough to bury the deceased and say some words over the grave, but there will be no extended delays if I can help it. Are there any questions?”

A few questions were asked and answered, and then it was time to turn in. Dr. White wrapped it all up with a few final words.

“This will not be easy. Some will die. Some will wish they would. Most of you will be sick, all of you will be hungry, and you’ll be so bone-tired in about ten days you’ll think seriously about turning around and returning to your farms. Me and Jeremiah will do our parts to make sure you see Oregon, but you’ll only see it if you prove to be tougher and meaner than this country you are about to travel. Now get some sleep. Tomorrow the adventure begins.

Spring flowers welcome the travelers
Spring flowers welcome the travelers | Source

Under the Stars

The thunder, earlier, proved to be more noise than trouble. By the time we turned in, the skies were clear and a million stars served as our blanket. I held Laura in my arms, the kids a stone’s throw away from us. Coyotes howled at the half-moon, owls answered, bullfrogs croaked, nature conducting a symphony on our last night in civilization.

“Are you afraid, Joshua?” Laura asked, her golden head tucked up under my chin.

“More excited than afraid, Laura. I suspect, though, I’ll change that assessment after a couple days on the Plains.”

“They say there are no trees on the Plains,” her voice dropping to a whisper. “They say a squirrel can jump from limb to limb, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Missouri, without ever touching ground, but after the Missouri that squirrel will be walking on solid ground for a thousand miles. Do you reckon that’s truth or just so much nonsense?”

“From everything I’ve heard, it’s true. I’ve also heard of buffalo herds so big they blot out the sun, millions of buffalo, as far as the eye can see, and mountains so high they seem to reach to the seat of God himself.” I was quiet then, squeezed her shoulder, felt her breathe deep next to me, and then her breathing became rhythmic, weariness overtaking her.

Truth be told, I was more than a little afraid, but it would do no good to say those words out loud. I was hoping that when the time came, when I had to face down those fears, that I’d be man enough to answer the call.

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 7 days ago from New York, New York

      Truly am enjoying this short story so far and cannot wait to see this journey as it unfolds slowly, but surely here. Happy Friday and have a wonderful weekend now, Bill!!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 7 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine and Happy Friday to you as well. Spring has finally arrived here and the weather is perfect.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 7 days ago from Brazil

      I'm glad your travellers have teamed up with others. I hope this wagon train will get them through safely.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 7 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Just fantastic. I love it. Great way to start a day.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 7 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks a bunch, Eric. I can see you on a wagon train back in 1845.....very easy to imagine. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 7 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, I have no problem seeing you, too, on a wagon train in 1845. I know you would have survived, and thrived.

      Thanks for reading and Happy Friday to you!

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 7 days ago from United Kingdom

      I'm actually afraid for these people. How do you weave such spellbinding stories?

      Why does the name Jeremiah Jackson ring a bell with me?

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 7 days ago from Olympia, WA

      There was a movie about a mountain man, Jeremiah Johnson, with Robert Redford...I'm sure that's it, Zulma. :)

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 7 days ago from United Kingdom

      Oh yeah. You're right. That's why it's so familiar.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 7 days ago from Olympia, WA

      That was me being lazy in choosing a frontier name. :)

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 7 days ago from Oklahoma

      Such a hazardous time to live.

      Great read!

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 7 days ago from Hyderabad, India

      The story is very interesting and the journey seems going to be very tough with some severe hurdles and problems. Will be waiting to read more.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 7 days ago from Washington State, USA

      Goosebumps. Geez, you know how to tell a story!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 7 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Aww, thanks, LInda! Glad you are enjoying it. Now it gets hairy!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 7 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Venkatachari M. I appreciate your loyal following, my friend.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 7 days ago from The Caribbean

      I like your explanation on how this story came into being; it encourages writers to explore their thoughts. I can see how the families coming together will add much more opportunities for content.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 7 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Thanks a lot, Larry! Yes indeed, hazardous for sure.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 7 days ago

      Frightening words for those born in this century and the last. Death, just a few hours delay and then onward again. And we may think we get pretty tired these days but I suspect nothing like the bone wearying fatigue that Joshua, George and their families are likely to experience.

    • profile image

      Voo 7 days ago

      I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this. I was right there! Such good writing..............Voo

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 7 days ago from USA

      Very well written. This is my favorite of your series so far. You really seem to be putting yourself into the characters.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 7 days ago from london

      Another enjoyable read. New adventures are always touching, exciting ... the fear factor, even a little, is generally very good and adds authenticity to the trip. Who won't be scared even in the excitement of it all? Hope lies ahead, Bro. Hope lies ahead.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 6 days ago

      It's strange, but I sometimes think that in a former life, I was part of a wagon train! I am enjoying the story.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 6 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Me too, Pop! I've always thought this was the time in our history I would have flourished in. I'm glad you're enjoying it.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 6 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Hope always lies ahead, Manatita, and isn't that fantastic? :) Thanks, brother!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 6 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Wow, thank you, Flourish! It's a little hard shifting gears from murder and mayhem to the Oregon Trail, so it is nice to read your praise. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 6 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Voo! Greatly appreciated.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 6 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Road, I can't even imagine what those people went through. Just the thought of walking 2000 miles is enough to make me collapse on the couch. LOL

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 6 days ago from Jeffersonville PA

      I'm always fascinated in learning an author's motivation behind a story. Thanks for sharing yours, dear Bill.

      There is safety in numbers. Dr. White seems like a decent and strong leader. Looking forward to where this journey takes all of us.

      See you soon and hope you have a great weekend. Love, Maria

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 6 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Dora! I hope these families find strength in one another. They are going to need it.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 6 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Maria. I taught a unit on the Oregon Trail for quite a few years, and of course I knew the hardships, but it all really hit home with me when I read that one paragraph while researching the coloring book. How the heck did they lift large logs while making their shelters? Amazing to me.

      Sunshine here. I hope your weekend is grand.

      love,

      bill

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 6 days ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      bill....the guts, stamina and faith it took back then to do just about anything, live, eat, build & travel. The strength and determination of a human being had to be phenomenal....no wimps allowed. I relate to the women, the mothers, who had their "babies" to be concerned about. I shudder to think of the fear and worry that had to have overwhelmed their maternal instincts, while smiling and supporting with a brave front, specifically for those kids of theirs. Those were times when kids became adults pretty damned quickly. They learned what was needed to survive and there was no question they would do their share.

      **Educational coloring books. You're a genius, bro.....a 100%, genius. Farming and now moving west.....Family entertainment at it's best.....read, color, discuss.....learn, have fun and bond! The ideal diversion from a kid in every room playing video games while Mom & Dad watch the boob tube all night. I think BIG! You can start a healthy, inexpensive, wholly-approved MOVEMENT....."Family Fun for Smart People!!" (My Agent fees are reasonable, bro! LOL) Love ya, Sis

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 6 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Sis, I honestly can't fathom how difficult those days were. I can read about it, do research, marvel, but the idea of walking 2000 miles with no modern conveniences, no medical care, no safety net of any sort, just you and the elements and nature doing its best to bring you to your knees...remarkable stuff!

      Love it....Family Fun for Smart People....that's a great tagline, Sis. I might use it. Your fees are in the mail. :)

      Hugs from sunny, and pleasantly warm, Olympia

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 6 days ago from United Kingdom

      Bill, you mention the pioneers had to shift large logs so they could build shelters. It reminded me of a quote by Bill Bryson regarding Stonehenge.

      'Can you imagine trying to talk six hundred people into helping you drag a fifty-ton stone eighteen miles across the countryside and muscle it into an upright position, and then saying, 'Right, lads! Another twenty like that, plus some lintels and maybe a couple of dozen nice bluestones from Wales, and we can party!'

    • Debangee Mandal profile image

      DEBANGEE MANDAL 6 days ago from India

      Definitely a wonderful continuation. I am glad that I am following it . It is lovely.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 6 days ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      walking 2000 miles without a pair of Jordan's is out of the question.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 days ago from Olympia, WA

      For sure, Sis! For sure! And where would I get my smoothies?

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 days ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you very much, Debangee! I am glad you are following it too. :)

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 5 days ago from Olympia, WA

      No kidding, Zulma! That would be a tough job to fill, wouldn't it? Thank God for slaves back then. LOL

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting chapter that definitely leaves me wanting to know what happens next. I'm looking forward to the next installment of the story.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 days ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm glad to hear that, Linda! Thank you for going along on this journey.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 4 days ago from Riga, Latvia

      Can't wait for the adventure to begin but I will tell you that after what I heard I was ready to turn and run right back to the farm but if everyone else is willing to go who am I to say no.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 4 days ago from Olympia, WA

      We'll save you a seat in the wagon, Rasma! It's the least we can do. :)

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 38 hours ago

      Bill, I have to critique more than just your imagination. I like the way you are elongating your sentences now instead of the short choppy ones in your "get down and get dirty" stories. Your descriptions really play to the imaginations. As an editor, I see your story tellin' really maturing. I'm enjoying this little adventure and hope to be able to read your latest chapter before the day ends. Thanks for a good read, friend.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 33 hours ago from Olympia, WA

      MIzB, thank you for that critique. The short choppy sentences are secondhand to me now, so it's a bit of a challenge to write "normally." I do appreciate you taking notice of the effort. See you down the road, my friend.

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 32 hours ago

      It's just one of the exciting story raising question, why did they took the risk of uncertainty?! Or am I the only one experiencing (beyond feelings) the same enthusiasm reading as you do writing it? . . . We are living in different era now; a "relocation" would last hours or days instead... Still, I do appreciate a lesson of history you are providing here my friend, learning is what matters. Thanks so much.

      Blessing and peace.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 21 hours ago from Olympia, WA

      Michael my friend, it is almost impossible for those of us today to truly understand what those people experienced or, for that matter, why they chose to do so....but I will try.

      Thank you my friend, and blessings always

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