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Into the Great Unknown: Chapter Twelve

Updated on August 25, 2017

One More State to Conquer

Of course there weren’t states back then, but territories . . . our travelers find themselves crossing the Blue Mountains into what is now present-day Washington State. Back then, in 1845, it was British territory according to documents, but those documents were becoming increasingly meaningless as more and more U.S. citizens streamed towards the Oregon Territory.

Laura is under the weather. Joshua is concerned. Everyone is exhausted and in dire need of some well-earned rest.

But first . . .

Coming out of the Blue Mountains
Coming out of the Blue Mountains | Source

Goodbye to the Blues

We crested a hill, what once would have been considered a mountain by many of us, and the Columbia River came into view, the waters sparkling under the fall sun, inviting us, pointing the way through a gorge with steep walls, a ribbon of blue providing life for the surrounding area.

And that area was desolate, sage brush, rocks, unwelcoming, the wagons kicking up dust, the dust remaining in the air as we passed, as though unsure of which way to go, finally settling back down from whence it came, the decision left for another time.

“What do we do now, Joshua?” Laura asked me. Her color had returned and she was feeling better. She had confirmed what I suspected two days earlier, she was with child, a child of the west, she said, and smiled. “It doesn’t look like there is a trail along the river bank, not with those steep cliffs.”

Her question was answered by Jackson shortly after we stopped for a midday meal.

“From here we go to the Whitman Mission, pilgrims,” he said. “We’ll rest there for a day. You’ll find the Whitman’s to be welcoming but a bit uppity. Indians don’t like them at all, from what I’ve observed, but that’s no concern of ours. After we rest up we tear apart the wagons and ride barges down the river. It will cost five dollars per family and belongings. That’ll get us to Fort Vancouver, a British fort be damned, but run by a good man. Then we just follow the Willamette down into paradise. If luck is on our side, you’ll be seeing your new home within a week, provided we all survive that cursed river and its rapids. It’s almost time to celebrate. The winter snows can’t hurt us now, so the worst has been avoided.”

Inhospitable land
Inhospitable land | Source

The Whitmans

My first impression of the Whitmans bore out what Jackson had said. Dr. Whitman was gracious enough, but his wife, Narcissa, was barely tolerable. Laura thought her downright rude.

“She acts like she’s better than us, Joshua. It’s hard for me to figure why she acts that way, high and mighty. I’m having a hard time thinking Christian thoughts about her.”

“People like that, Laura, they are basically unhappy with themselves and take it out on others. I suspect she has a hard road ahead of her, so don’t you waste another moment letting her bother you. What bothers me most is a conversation I had with one of Whitman’s helpers. He was telling me our friend George, because of his color, would not be able to own land in Oregon south of the Columbia. I just can’t wrap my brain around that kind of thinking. Seems to me if a man is willing to make this backbreaking journey, he sure as hell ought to partake in the rewards when he finishes. This is a country based on freedom, isn’t it? Why does a man’s color affect that?”

Laura had no answer for me. I really didn’t expect one.

“So what is George going to do, Joshua?”

“The Whitman’s man says the British are more than willing to give a land claim north of the Columbia, give a claim to anyone willing, no matter his color. George is considering it, said he’d decide when we get to Fort Vancouver, talk it over with the Prefect there, a Mister John McLaughlin. He’s supposed to be a fair man who is favorable to Americans.”

“What about us, Joshua?”

“I guess we have matters to discuss, Laura. I was counting on George and his family as neighbors, us all watching out for each other, but it doesn’t sit well with me, him not being able to get a land claim from the United States.”

The Columbia awaits
The Columbia awaits | Source

The Mighty Columbia

Dismantling the wagons took the better part of two days. The wind howled, driven by an unseen force, pushing dirt throughout our campsite, at times blinding, always bothersome, someone said death by a thousand pinpricks, and I reckon that’s accurate enough.

“Leave what you don’t need, pilgrims,” Jackson shouted to us all. “You can stock up on supplies at Fort Vancouver. We don’t want these barges riding low in this river, not with the wind putting up a fuss, and there’s a mile portage around the falls downstream, so whatever you take, you carry around that portage. Hurry up now, you lollygaggers. Let’s try to be ready within the hour.”

There were Indians there, watching us, waiting for our discards, silent men and women, expressionless, if they were amused by it all they didn’t show it, just held fast by curiosity as the strange visitors to their land struggled with balky items, loading them on the barges, a great deal of cursing that day. The water was placid there, the river wide, the cliffs steep, the ground scorched, barren, and eagles soared above it all, what they were thinking I’ll never know, deer along the shoreline, fish leaping from the waters, the sun, minus its fierceness, providing a golden glow as it inched towards the distant Pacific Ocean.

“This doesn’t look like the paradise we were promised, Joshua,” Laura said, hugging herself despite the comfortable temperatures.

“This gorge cuts through the last of the mountains, Laura. I’m told on the other side of them the land turns wet, green, and lush. Don’t you worry about the land west of here; if you need to worry, give concern over this river trip we’re about to make. There are all manner of problems we could be facing. This river may look inviting, but it’s deep and fierce, and I heard Jackson saying last year two barges overturned and six men and two women were never found.”

Our two children came over, each one grabbing a piece of my trousers. My son looked up at me.

“Are we almost home, Pa?” he asked, and in that question could be founnd all the hopes and dreams we’d been grasping tightly for over five months.

Author’s Note

I had the opportunity to kayak this portion of the Oregon Trail. The cliffs rise straight up from the river, some two, three hundred feet, possibly more. The ground is perpetually brown, the landscape barren, a mighty river surrounded by desert. The river is so large as to appear calm, but its force is undeniable to anyone willing to swim against the current, the final leg of its journey from the headwaters in Canada.

It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to those travelers. They came from a land of lush farming soil. They had endured months of hardship overland, and now they were being asked to put all their trust in a wooden barge and the navigation of a complete stranger over deep, deadly waters.

Where was this paradise they were promised? They certainly couldn’t see it even though they were told it was close by. Why couldn’t they see it? They had done everything asked of them, conquered tall mountains, forged rivers, buried their dead, and avoided disease, yet here they stood, facing another obstacle, the Pacific so close some imagined salt in the air they breathed, but still no sighting.

They were tougher folks than I and that’s for damned sure.

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

      They were indeed Missy, and then they were killed by those Indians. Nasty finish to their personal stories.

    • Missy Smith profile image

      Missy Smith 5 months ago from Florida

      Marcus and Narcissa Whitman? I do recall those two being some of the characters in the reading chapter I mentioned that my son and I just read about the Oregon trail. They came from New York to live and work among the Cayuse Indians. They were missionaries there to teach the Christian religion; I believe? That was exciting for me to remember when I read their names. :)

      I hope the wagon trailers make the river journey!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 months ago from Olympia, WA

      They will, Jo! I think they've been through enough hardship.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 6 months ago from Tennessee

      I'm counting on your to get our friends over this last big hurdle. I think they'll make it.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      That was my feeling from the beginning of the story, Michael my friend. They deserved a happy ending. Thank you as always!

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 7 months ago

      Oh, the growing pain of maturity test, while they're holding fast to the only solid virtue they have - the hope. Bill my friend, while reading I try to stay closer possible at your side expecting you will extend the hand if my breathing fails... Unimaginable! I do trust you, the pilgrims will safely survive the danger of river's journey- the heavens owe them this little justice I suppose.

      Peace with us.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 8 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Lawrence, that is a part of that history few people know about, the colored not being allowed to claim land....injustice to the max.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 8 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      That would be so hard! all those months trekking across the country in the hope of a better life only to be told at the end you can't claim any land!

      I know the story's about Joshua and Laura, but George's plight must have hit them hard as well!

      And why do I have the feeling their biggest test is about to hit home, the river, navigating a river like that is no mean feat even when you're well rested, these people aren't!


    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Susan, I doubt any leg of that trip was "easy." But our family made it, and now on to a new life. Thank you!

    • Susan Sears profile image

      Susan Sears 9 months ago

      Wow, the trip sure doesn't seem to get any easier. It sounds like the last leg will be the toughest.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well shoot, Jackie, I'm glad someone finally said that. LOL Thanks for making it back despite HP's worst efforts.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 9 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Never got notice of this or would been here immediately. Might have to stop following you and start again.

      Well we know what Laura and Joshua have been up to in their spare time, huh? lol

      Just had to say that.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Very true, Shyron! The work those people did is unbelievable. There was no such thing as a day off from work.

      Thank you and blessings always

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 9 months ago from Texas

      Bill, this is almost home, now the hard work really begins especially with Laura's pregnancy.

      Beautiful story.

      Blessings as always

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Maria! I had to fight my natural "thriller" instincts to get this family through safely. I just want them to have a happy life.



    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 9 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Bill,

      So happy to see that Laura is 'with child of the west'.

      What a tender line: "Are we almost home, Pa?"

      This family is filled with love, faith and unbelievable determination. This installment feels like the 'Christmas Eve' of this life adventure.

      Have a great Labor Day weekend. Love, Maria

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      1845 Zulma, and as we are still seeing, racism was alive and well then.

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 9 months ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you, thank you, thank you, for sparing Laura. How wonderful for the new addition to the family.

      It's sad but not surprising that George would be denied land. Was this set in the 1840s? So pre-Civil War so I suppose many considered him a slave, not a free man.

      Great name for Dr. Whitman's wife. Narcissa. So apropos.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Rasma, welcome back, my friend, and thank you!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Mary, I'm exhausted just writing about this journey. LOL I can't imagine taking it. Thank you for joining us.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Tamara, the wild rapids made that river dangerous back dams, white rapids, certain death if the raft overturns.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I think that when I'm writing it, Dora! Much easier to write than to live it. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well thank you very much, Maria, and welcome to my site.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Eric, you can go on as long as you like. I love it! Thank you my friend.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I don't know, Linda; I may have run out of ways for people to die on this trip. :) We'll all find out soon. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you, Linda, for adding that about Narcissa! It is a story which needs to be told by itself, just one of thousands of fascinating stories about these fascinating people.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 9 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      Well I for one am glad that this journey is almost over. Cannot wait to see what happens when they reach the end.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 9 months ago from Brazil

      I'm so glad they are almost there, what an awful journey it has been. I hope they get across the river without losing too much or anyone.

      Very entertaining.

    • profile image

      Tamara Moore 9 months ago


      I have missed several chapters and need to catch up! Are the waters deadly due to sharks, sting-rays, and the wild waves? Also, your pictures are beautiful. I especially like the image of the ocean. Joshua has made it through the entire journey!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 9 months ago from The Caribbean

      The ride may have been rough, but there's still reason to give thanks if they're safe. And those who survive are stronger for it. Of course, all of this is nice to say when I'm talking about someone else's journey.

    • MariaExcala profile image

      MariaExcala 9 months ago from Germany

      i love it! great hub!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 9 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Fantastic and congratulations to Laura. It might seem too scary to bring in a new life but it is still cause for celebration. Isn't the Columbia Gorge just about the prettiest thing in the world.

      Those barges with their long sweep oars are a kick nowadays. Not so much back then.

      Sorry I go one so but I just love every word you put down here.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 9 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The last leg of the journey sounds very scary, Bill. As you say about yourself, the real-life travellers were much tougher than me. I'm hoping for a happy ending for everyone in your story, although I know that may not be possible.

    • Carb Diva profile image

      Linda Lum 9 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, as a history teacher I'm sure you know the story of Narcissa Whitman; my heart aches for her and your readers need to know the pain she suffered.

      Like Joshua and Laura, she left everything and everyone she knew to start that mission with her husband. Imagine that your first home is a hut with no heat, no running water. You give birth all alone in the wilderness and two years later that child, your only child, drowns in a fish pond.

      My husband, daughter, and I visited the Whitman Mission just last summer. It's a beautiful but haunting place.

      Thank you for telling this story. When I consider what these brave people endured it makes my problems seem pretty small.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Me too, Pop! Just a few hundred miles to go, and I appreciate you riding along.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Flourish, I can't even imagine. And where does Joshua go in the middle of the night to buy his wife pickles and ice cream? LOL

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      That's okay, my friend. You had me scratching my head for a moment.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you MizB! Having a baby in the wilderness? God bless them all. I don't know how they did it.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Well best wishes on that journey, Clive!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Shannon, the Yellowstone flowing through Hayden Valley is one of the loveliest places on Earth. Make it a point to go there one day.

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 9 months ago

      We are almost there, and I am exhausted!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 9 months ago from USA

      Being pregnant and on that trip? Omg. What a nightmare. Being knocked up in the middle of nowhere having to do all that traveling at the same time you have morning sickness and fatigue? I wouldn't be a happy camper. Jeez.

    • peoplepower73 profile image

      Mike Russo 9 months ago from Placentia California

      Sorry, I entered my post in the wrong article. I will try to better next time.

    • peoplepower73 profile image

      Mike Russo 9 months ago from Placentia California

      Raising the debt ceiling is how we pay our bills for the last fiscal year. The government operates on a credit card where they spend the money that was budgeted for in one fiscal year and then by raising the budget debt ceiling, they pay for the expenditures of that fiscal year in the next fiscal year. That debt is then added to the national debt. Trump's national debt is almost 20 trillion dollars. Here is the link to the real time national debt clock.

      Here are the unattended consequences of shutting down the government.

      The 16-day government shutdown of October 2013, which was the longest since 1980, resulted in an estimated $24 billion in lost economic output, or 0.6 percent of projected annualized GDP growth, according to the Standard & Poor’s ratings agency.

      Here is the link to why Trump will probably not shut down the government for his wall.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      Doris James-MizBejabbers 9 months ago

      This has been an interesting trip, Bill. I'm glad to read a story by someone who knows what he is talking about, not just describing territory from reading the books. The trials and travails of our traveler friends are historically accurate. This is a great ride, and I hope it ends well for the family. Laura's news, gee, I would hate to be in her shoes right now. It's hard enough to be pregnant in good times. See you next week, my friend.

    • clivewilliams profile image

      Clive Williams 9 months ago from Jamaica

      I'll be going into the great unknown shortly myself. Great story foe Ebook series.

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 9 months ago

      Sounds spectacular. I'd love to see it someday. Besides the Red River, the Mississippi is the only other major river I can recall seeing. I've seen Niagra Falls from the Canadian side when I was a kid, but I don't know if you count that.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Shannon, one of the few major rivers as yet untouched by man is the Yellowstone....check it out some day if you get a chance. It is spectacular to see a river unaffected by man and dams.

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 9 months ago

      Nice touch to add your personal experience with the area you describe. I often wonder about what the rivers in this country we're really like - back before we dammed them off for man-made lakes and altered them significantly. For instance, on the border of Oklahoma and Texas is the Red River. You can clearly see it must have been much, much deeper in the past than it is now just by noticing the canyon-like walls. Of course, now there are lakes such as Lake Texoma that I believe are fed by the waters from the river dam.

      Sure hope you get this family safely across. All of them!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 9 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you RoaddMonkey...they definitely saw the best, and the worst, of the U.S. and farmland, desert, mountains, raging rivers, gorges, dense forests....not an easy trip at all.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 10 months ago

      It's always that last push that seems the hardest. I never realised all the different kinds of environment they had to make their way through, what a journey!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 10 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Mike! I never really thought of the Columbia as a powerful river until I kayaked it. It looks so peaceful because of the dams, but underneath the surface it is one powerful s.o.b.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 10 months ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hi Bill - it is just 8 a.m. and I am exhausted just looking at that river and what lies ahead. Your writing allows me to feel the mix of desperation and looming accomplishment.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 10 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Aww, thanks Sis! They are in good hands with me leading the way. As for sacrifice and hardships, your description in your comment is exactly what I wanted to convey. This was a Herculean effort for ordinary people, far beyond anything I can accurately depict with words.

      Have a super weekend, Sis!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 10 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Janine! I'll be painting this weekend while you have fun with your family. Happy Weekend!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 10 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      The expression we've heard a thousand times, "So close, yet so far away..." This is what goes through my mind at this point, Bill.

      They know how far they've come, through hell & horrific sacrifice. As they grieve so much loss, their anticipation must be overwhelming, while fear of the still unknown, lingers. They're not as yet able to be jubilant but more than ever, must maintain their strength and determination. These amazing human beings have withstood every challenge a human may endure. But endure they must and they will. Merely placing myself with them on this journey, has been emotionally draining, enough to be forever in awe of these super human, real life trail blazers, of generations ago.

      Now, it's you I trust to get us there at last, with a feeling of the greatest accomplishment as well as enormous relief and eternal gratitude...............

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 10 months ago from New York, New York

      Aw, I can't imagine how these travelers did indeed make this trek, but think you captured the essence here perfectly still. thanks for sharing and have a wonderful Friday, as well as weekend ahead now Bill ;)


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