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Into the Great Unknown: Chapter Two

Updated on May 10, 2017

Thanks for Returning

I really do appreciate it.

As I mentioned last week, there is very little chance of this series of short stories becoming a book. I’m just scratching an itch and writing about one of my favorite times in history, so I appreciate you traveling along with this young family as they take the adventure of a lifetime.

It’s about time for them to leave, so let’s peek in and see what’s happening.

Leaving home
Leaving home | Source

Loading up the Wagon

“Pa, Bobby Thompson says the Indians will scalp us. Is that true, Pa?”

I looked down at my six-year old, his blond hair blowing in the gentle breeze, freckles dotting his face, worry lines creasing his forehead. He was starting to take on some of my features, or so my wife said, a miniature Joshua, she said, especially around the eyes, robin’s-egg blue, those eyes, the gentlest blue she’d ever seen, she tells people.

I reached down and ruffled his hair.

“Well now, Samuel, has Bobby Thompson ever taken this trip we’re about to take? Has he ever been to Oregon?”

He squinted as he thought about my question. A group of warblers exploded out of the barn. Overhead a Mississippi Kite watched, tracing wide, slow circles, gauging distances and possibilities, always the hunter.

“No, Pa, I don’t reckon he has.”

“Well, there you have it, then. It’s plain hard to know about something you’ve never seen, don’t you think?

More squinting followed. The warblers grew weary of the chase and settled in the old oak.

“But Pa, we’ve never seen God, but Ma says he exists.”

I was saved from more theological questions by the sound of a wagon approaching. George Atkins, his wife, and son approached, crossed our small bridge, two horses tied to their wagon, the wagon drooping low under the heavy load, barrels strapped to the sides, wife and son walking alongside while George urged the oxen on. My wife, Laura, came out of the house, held her hand up to ward off the sun, walked over and stood by my side.

“I guess it must be time to leave our home, Joshua,” she said, putting her hand in mine.

Leaving things behind
Leaving things behind | Source

A Final Memory-Catcher

I took a final look around at our fifty acres. The barn looked tired, reflecting my feelings, a few boards missing, the roof sagging, showing its age and not sure if it will stand through another storm. The fence, kicked down by the cows and repaired more times than I could remember, stood waiting for the new owner, as if on guard against unwanted invaders, circling the cabin, the trusty sentry. The old oak, struck twice by lightning, charred but still standing. Fields stood empty, awaiting care, hard to believe six months from then a field of green stalks would all but blot out the sun, their stalks swaying, the constant whisper of those stalks, a sound unlike anything else in life.

“What’re you doing, Pa?” my daughter Lisa asked.

“Just catching some final memories, Lisa. Just saving some visions for my later years. Come on, darlin’, let’s us head south to St. Joe. There’s an adventure waiting for us.”

The sun shone brightly as we took those first tentative steps towards St. Joe, Missouri, about three-hundred miles away, a good fifteen days of travel on decent roads, provided nothing went wrong, fifteen days to get into the rhythm of travel, work with the oxen, get to know their quirks, work out routines which would help us once we turned west and pointed our wagon towards the great unknown. My stomach was clenched and my mind was racing with concern. Indians scalping us? Just one of many worries I couldn’t voice out loud.

Hitting the open road
Hitting the open road | Source

The Rhythm of the Road

The sense of a great adventure was gone by the third day. We had decent weather the first two but that third day, Lord God Almighty, it rained something fierce, as if all the angels in heaven were weeping at once. The roads turned to mud, the mud deep enough to suck you down, suck your spirit in the process. The oxen were straining with the load, making progress but none too happy about it. Lisa was sitting next to me as I pulled off the road under a stand of maples and set the brake. I helped her down off the wagon, handed her off to her mother. The four of us were soaked to the bone, feeling the chill, and grateful to be standing still for a spell. George and his family came to a halt behind us, looking every bit as miserable as I felt.

“Joshua,” my wife said. “If you think you can start a fire, I’ll get to fixing dinner. A fire sounds right good, so I don’t want to be hearing any excuses about it being too wet. Kids, you two help your father round up some dry twigs and such. Go on now! The sooner you do that the sooner we’ll stop shivering.”

I married up in life when I married Laura. Married close to twelve years and I’ve never seen her depressed. I wondered if the first time would be on this backbreaking journey of ours.

George and his son, me and my two, we managed to find enough dry wood to get a fire started. No one said a word as the fire roared and we stood around it feeling the warmth, all of us mud-splattered. Not for the first time I questioned the wisdom of the trip. George voiced what I was thinking.

“Three days it’s been, Joshua, every bone in my body hurts, and we’re still in Iowa. I’ve got some concerns about my wife’s health.”

“George, I’ll tell you something my daddy told me, and I suspect you know it’s the truth: womenfolk will always be stronger than the men of the family. It’s always been that way and it always will be that way. While you and I ride in the wagon, coaxing on those oxen, our women are walking behind, one step at a time, never one word of complaint, taking care of the young ones, cooking for us, mending our aches and pains. If I were you, I’d expend more energy worrying about you and not your wife. Now come on, let’s go see if we can shoot us a deer, or at least a rabbit or two. I could sure use some meat in my gut.”

“They say the deer are so plentiful in Oregon that a man would have to be blind not to shoot one wherever he aims.”

I spit on the ground, adding moisture to moisture, looked up at the trees blowing in the stiff breeze.

“They say a lot of things, George, probably half of which are true. I reckon we’ll find out for ourselves, soon enough, what’s truth and what’s a government fairy tale. Remember to keep that gun of yours loaded tonight, and close by. There’re desperate people on these roads, and we may have to discourage some of them along the way.”

The End of a Long Day

We slept under the wagon that night, the kids huddled close, Laura’s hand in mind, the rain pounding out a lullaby, all of us lost in our visions of a land far away, visions of a future hoped for, visions of a better life. On that night, on a lonely road in southern Iowa, we gave no thought to government or exploration. All that was important was beneath that wagon.

2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

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

      Susan, I think it is a greatly underappreciated story in our history. What those people did was remarkable.

    • Susan Sears profile image

      Susan Sears 5 weeks ago

      Wow, amazing bit of history in that video...I have a friend that is a Mormon that has the diaries from her ancestors as they traveled the Oregon Trail.

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

      Thank you very much, Ann! This story is easy for me to tell. I've always been fascinated by the willingness of these people to leave a reasonably comfortable life, leave their families, and head off into the unknown. Remarkable, really!

      bill

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 6 weeks ago from SW England

      What courage these people must have had. I can't imagine what it felt like to go out into the great unknown. Pioneers and full of spirit they must have been.

      Great story, bill!

      Ann

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

      Thank you Jackie, for trying to catch up,. My family is from Iowa and I remember it as lush, green, and quiet. LOL I would love to see it again.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 7 weeks ago from The Beautiful South

      I went to Iowa one summer and saw the Mississippi River, went on a boat for dinner...can't imagine why they would want to leave but I guess meat to kill and eat had much to do with it.

      I will try hurry and catch up!

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

      Thanks for your kind words, Missy! I try to stay authentic to the times in a story. As for then vs now, I tend to agree with your reflections. Obviously we'll never know from personal experience, but I do believe there was more of a sense of community and family back then.

    • Missy Smith profile image

      Missy Smith 2 months ago from Florida

      It's kind of an odd reflection when reading how life was back in those days. I am the type to compare, and so, I do drift to how much things have changed over the years, and I always ask myself if it is better now?

      We may think about how hard it was to settle somewhere and prosper back then, but I really think even though it was challenging, it was still so much better than what the future has become. They may have had to work hard and grow and hunt their own food, but the level of thankfulness that it gave the people back then is wonderful. We have so many ungrateful people these days.

      Furthermore, families stayed together and loved each other unconditionally. They may have had to face obstacles, but together they stayed strong and probably lived longer for all the hard work they put in, and all organic grown food back then!

      You tell this story well with the correct way they talked in those days and detailing the scenery and settings. You always do a great job writing your stories, Bill. :)

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

      You do not need to say more,Shannon, but I need to say thank you!

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 3 months ago

      I am reminded of that Oregon Trail game.....Need I say more? Onward we go!

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

      I really appreciate that, Sha! I do love this time in history,and I'm still in awe of the people who made this journey.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 3 months ago from Central Florida

      Bill, your characters and even the landscape are so alive in this story! I can see, hear, smell and feel what's going on around the family and their minds.

      Your passion for this family is coming through loud and clear. That, my friend, is what captivating writing is all about!

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

      Thank you, Eddy, for catching up. It was nice spending time with you.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 months ago from Wales

      Thoroughly enjoyed the second chapter and feel a connection with this family already. Now as long as I am not interrupted away I go to chapter 3.

      Eddy.

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

      You are never late, John, and I'm always appreciative when you find the time to stop by. Thank you!

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 months ago from Queensland Australia

      I apologise that it has taken me so long to get to read this chapter, Bill. Better late than never, and I wasn't disappointed.

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

      Lawrence, just add one more concern to their growing list of concerns. Thank you for mentioning that....a simple fact that could turn deadly.

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      Lawrence Hebb 3 months ago

      Bill

      I appreciate what you're saying about turning this into a novel, but i think it would make a great one.

      I can almost feel the 'trepidation' as Joshua thinks about having to face Indians and the like.

      Only concern I have is the sleeping under the wagon. If it rains and things turn to mud it's likely to sink killing them!

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

      Yes, Jo, quite a few died along the way....most by accident. There was nothing romantic about this journey, in reality. It was a brutal voyage for sure.

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 3 months ago from Tennessee

      A good number of these settlers died during the journey. We saw a sign someplace when we visited the Oregon Trail stating there was a grave every few hundred yards. Many of these were children. Reading your vivid description of the children here made me think of that. That takes away a little of the romance, but it's still one of my favorite periods in our history.

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

      Thanks so much, Maria. You have no idea how much I appreciate you and your friendship.

      love,

      bill

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 4 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Such love, loyalty and strength shown by Laura and Joshua, now a part of my world too.

      Loved Joshua's wise words to George. Moving on to Part 3.

      Love, Maria

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 4 months ago

      Bill, I must compliment you on the beautiful descriptions you have in this chapter. Just wait until they get to Missouri, there's come gorgeous country there. Sounds like they may have some good times, yet, but just wait until they have to cross the Rockies! I'm enjoying the trip so far, my friend.

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

      Zulma, I don't think there is any way any of them could be properly prepared for such a journey. I personally can't imagine walking 2000 miles in the heat and dust and violent storms, nothing to look at but the dirt in front of you....I don't know how those people did it.

      Thanks for catching up. I need to get busy on the next chapter. Have a great weekend!

    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 4 months ago from United Kingdom

      I did the maths on this and you're talking four, maybe, five months of traveling and living off the land. I suspect Joshua didn't really think through the logistics of this. It's probably just as well. If he had, this story wouldn't have happened.

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

      Thank you Jaye! I do appreciate your thoughts and it is always nice having you visit.

    • JayeWisdom profile image

      Jaye Denman 4 months ago from Deep South, USA

      Your fondness for the period shows in your writing, Bill. Likable characters, a sense of adventure and expectation mixed with a bit of sadness and some foreboding . . . I have no doubt this story will get better and better with each chapter. I look forward to reading more of it. Jaye

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

      I appreciate that, Vellur! I love that you love this story.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 4 months ago from Dubai

      A cold wet night under the wagon with the danger of trespassers, a dangerous and uncomfortable situation. Hope the sun warms their heart and soul the next day. Great write, I can see the story unfolding through your words.

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

      Thank you Rasma! There will always be love in my stories....that is the great well of strength from which we all drink, I believe.

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

      Michael my friend, the phrase "pioneer spirit" sprung from those who made this particular journey, and i understand the phrase well. It took a certain kind of determination to make such an arduous trip, and I hope to show that through these stories. Thank you and blessings always!

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

      All aboard, Flourish! We leave soon, and thank you for your kind words. I'm trying to grow as a writer and diversity is one way to do that, I hope.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 months ago from USA

      I like the sheer diversity of your writing. I am enjoying this trip out West! Don't leave me in Iowa!

    • Michael-Milec profile image

      Michael-Milec 4 months ago

      " The Great Unknown'' becoming a great history lesson of double impact; the other is revealing to my curiosity those trying and difficult times of the pioneers living during the days of freedom and liberty birth pangs . What an admirable determination the whole family had. Intensity of my curiosity is on increase, to see them overcoming some more rain storms or perhaps greater challenges next couple of weeks of their journey. Soon you will demonstrate that to us in your mastery story telling my dear friend, wouldn't you ?! Thanks.

      Blessings always and a happy Mather’s Day weekend.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 4 months ago from Riga, Latvia

      I don't like getting caught in heavy rain but the start of this journey is exciting. I see it happens to the best of us Bill at the very end - Laura's hand in mind to in mine. I like the idea of the rain pounding out a lullaby. Hope you have a great weekend.

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

      That is high praise, Linda, and I thank you for it!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Chapter Two of the story is certainly interesting. The image of people sleeping under the wagon in the rain will stay in my mind for some time.

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

      Wettest year on record, Sis,and I'm damned tired of it. Having said that, we normally get less rains than a lot of eastern states. What gives us our reputation is we seem to get a little rain almost daily....only 80 days of sunshine each year here.

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      OMG rain!! It's like monsoon season here! If you've had more rain than we have this past 2-3 weeks.....you must be feeding the critters while wearing flippers & snorkel!

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

      In my case, Manatita, a very small grape in a very large cocktail. :)

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 4 months ago from london

      Ha ha. Lol. But you are, bro ....you and I, we are definitely paving the way, but with a slight twist. A grape in the cocktail, perhaps?

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

      Lori, there is no doubt in my mind that womenfolk are stronger, despite my love for my deceased father. The pictures? Out in the country about ten miles from here.

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

      Sis, you are so kind. Thank you my friend. I can barely imagine the hardships these people endured, and for what? The chance for a better life. Our history is littered with people like this, nameless, faceless, lost in history, but I believe their spirits live on in each of us.

      Hugs and love from rainy Olympia

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 4 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Bro....and we're off! Perfect timing for another journey, as we tag along with yet another strong-willed family making their way to a better life.

      If not for your amazing talent, could we even imagine a trek such as this? You place us so effortlessly into scenarios and the mindset of your characters, before we know it, we're transferred from our SUV into a covered wagon. Sleeping comfortably under that wagon, cuddling for warmth, in place of a Holiday Inn, anticipating filling our bellies with deer or rabbit. What, Bill? No McDonald's on the way?

      If not for you, how could we ever experience the wonder and hope of a time when human beings lived and loved and made their way on faith and guts! We become a part of it all. You know what Bill? I feel like I belong and it feels right........Let's keep moving. Sis.

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      Lori Colbo 4 months ago from Pacific Northwest

      Yessir, we womenfolk are stronger - lol. Loved this one as much as the last. Where did you take your photos, Bill?

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

      Thank you Janine! It was a long day at the farmers market and this old man is a bit tired.

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

      Thank you so much, mactavers! This period in history has always fascinated me.

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

      Thank you Eric! Just got home from a farmers market and now I'm trying to catch up. Actually I've spent a couple night underneath a pickup, so I thought why not my characters? :)

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

      Linda, that rain scene actually came from doing research about the Simmons Party, who settled first in Tumwater. They hacked their way for fifteen days through a downpour to reach Tumwater, and that's what brought this scene to life.

      And I agree; I've never seen rain like we just had here in western Washington....let's hope it's a while before we see it again.

      Thank you!

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

      I am very glad to hear that, Venkatachari M. Thank you!

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

      That is high praise, Dora, and I thank you for it.

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

      No doubt about it, Manatita. They definitely paved the way, my brother. Glad it wasn't me doing the paving. :)

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

      Thank you Pop! I appreciate you riding along.

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      breakfastpop 4 months ago

      It's an exciting journey. I wish them well.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 4 months ago from london

      A brave new world approaches.Guruji was so proud of pioneers! Paving the way for you and I, Bro. Paving the way.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 4 months ago from The Caribbean

      I like the catching-the-memories parts. The visions you describe help me imagine the previous scenes. Seems like I spent time there.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 4 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      It's going good. The narration brings to life the characters and surrounding environment before my eyes.

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      Linda Lum 4 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Wonderful chapter 2. I wonder if the storm of last Thursday inspired you to write about the rain. Honestly, I've lived here all my life and NEVER have I seen it rain that hard.

      I love your comment about the strength of women; thank you for that.

      I'm going to take your word that this won't become a book, but will cherish every chapter you have time to share with us.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Wonderful. My old 53 Chevy truck was mounted high enough to sleep under. This brought back some cold memories. Your family here is a pleasure to get to know. I look forward to some traveling with them.

      Have a great Weds. friend

    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 4 months ago

      Great writing and photos. You have done it again!

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 months ago from New York, New York

      Definitely enjoying following along so far and thanks for a bit of an update here today to this young family's journey. Now, wishing you a very, Happy Wednesday!! :)