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The Oregon Trail

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April 1847

Susannah Grey

When we first started out on the Oregon Trail, it was Papa, Mother, my 6 year old sister Annabelle, the baby Henry, and me; along with two other families. We left Independence, Missouri three days ago, heading to our first stop on the trail, Fort Kearny. But it’s now clear that not everyone will make it to Oregon.

Mother died the second day, of some disease called cholera, or something like that. I just can’t wrap my mind around the idea that she’s gone. Papa said to just think as if she just didn’t go with us to Oregon. The thought is surprisingly helping a lot. And she wasn’t the only one to go. The same day she went to heaven, the Johnson family did to; the whole lot of them. They all caught the disease as well. That’s when the other family (they never did introduce themselves) decided there was too much death on the trail and turned back, going home. I wonder if they made it…

So now it’s just Papa, Annabelle, Henry, and me. I wanted to turn back, go home and get some other people to go with us, but Papa said no, that it’ll take too much time. I’m worried, though, even though he told me not to be. I don’t care much for wild animals, but it’s the Indians that scare me. I’ve heard awful stories of them taking people’s lives for no reason at all. I just hope Papa never puts down his gun…

I guess I’m worried about a lot of things. Indians, getting lost, more death, running out of food…

I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re going close to Oregon City in hopes of better farmland. Back home, well what was home, our farm wasn’t that successful. Most of the crops failed. Papa thought we were done for until he heard of free, fertile land out west. So we bought a wagon and packed it up with farming supplies such as a shovel, rake, and a pick; along with things like rope, blankets, few changes of clothes and lanterns; and of course, food. The only furniture piece we brought was the family cradle, passed down on my mother’s side for many generations, fixed and re-fixed. Thankfully, there’s still a little room in the back of the wagon for Annabelle and I to sit down. Henry just stays in the cradle.

This isn’t much of an adventure as I thought it would be. There’s not much to do but walk, look after the little ones, and take care of the two mules pulling our wagon. Papa and I get up a little before sunrise to make breakfast, feed the mules, and pack up our camping things. We feed the mules again at noon and then we eat mostly bread and carrots, or corn. And then, a little after it gets dark out, we set up camp and make dinner; and then get as much undisturbed sleep as possible. It’s going to be like this for 2000 miles, about 15 miles a day, for nearly 6 months. I honestly don’t think I could make it.

May 1847

Susannah Grey

I’m writing this from Fort Kearny, so yes we made it and we’re all still in just about one piece. It’s dull here, not much but buildings of sod and unshaven “military men”. Though I did hear about a snake passing through one of the “military men’s” housing unit and he screamed like a girl. That would’ve been a sight to see, or maybe a sound to hear. Anyway, this place is not nearly as pretty or exciting as Alcove Spring. We passed through it a while ago and it was beautiful! I wanted to stay forever, but Papa said we had to keep pushing through onto Oregon. Oregon better be pretty. But I don’t think anything could compare to Alcove. The spring was gorgeous, pure and clean. The land was lush and green, hardly nothing to complain about. I also pointed all this out to Papa, but no, he wants the land in Oregon.

We’ve been on the trail for about a month now, at least I’m pretty sure it’s May now and not still April. It’s hard to keep track of time out here. I just hope we didn’t miss whole months and then it starts snowing. That would be horrible.

Papa is buying more food right now. I didn’t realize how fast food could run out. I just hope none of us starves… and that includes the mules; which I named, by the way. I had nothing to do, nor nothing to think about while walking so I decided to name them. Besides, they’ll be with us for a while and it would be unfair not to give them names. I decided that one’s a boy (Jack) and the other is a girl (Beck). I think they are rather decent names for mules, right?

Our next stop, I believe, is Fort Caspar. I don’t know what Papa was thinking about stopping there. There have been so many Indian attacks and so many Americans have been killed. I hope nothing happens. I’m starting to think Papa has left some of his mind back in Independence, Missouri.

The weather has been driving me to madness. It’s too hot for the living to be walking about, I swear it. Even when I’m only wearing the thinnest dress I own, I’m still burning up. I realize I’m complaining a lot. I just can’t help it. I think this was a bad idea, going to Oregon I mean. I wish I was like Annabelle; she hardly ever says a word… but maybe that’s not such a good thing.

Papa just came back carrying a sack of potatoes and bacon, lots and lots of bacon. When we get to Oregon, I’ll never eat it again. I’ve had enough to last me a life time.

We’re going on the trail again, so until next time.

June 1847

Susannah Grey

We’re going through the South Pass as I write this. There’s nothing around but dead-ish looking plants, dried up and yet somewhat green. The path is miles wide, going straight through the Rocky Mountains. Thank goodness it’s here because I don’t think our wagon would’ve made it over the mountains.

A lot has happened since I last wrote. We made it to Fort Caspar. It turns out I was worried about Indian attacks for no reason and instead should’ve been worrying about an Indian or two joining our journey. Of course, this had never occurred to me, but of course it did happen.

At Fort Caspar, Papa met an Indian boy, probably my around my age by the looks of him: 14 to maybe even 16. But he doesn’t look like any Indian I’ve ever seen or heard about. He looked ALMOST American. He had a mix of tan and white skin and short-ish black hair with blue eyes. I’m guessing one of his parents is white while the other is Indian. He had the prints of a bear’s paw on his chest and a black and white horse with him. And also a spear tied to his back, a knife attacked to his belt, and a gun strapped to his horse. Very comforting.

But, being the “nice” man Papa is, he let this Indian boy accompany us, even after all my silent pleading. It turns out the boy’s name is Red, which I thought was pretty strange but then again, he thought my name was unusual. It’s somewhat comforting to have him with us and yet I’m still frightened of him. He has a dangerous, deathly look in his eyes, but Papa obviously can’t see it. Annabelle doesn’t mind him at all; in fact she told me he was like an older brother. Henry, of course, can’t really state his opinion on the matter. I guess it might be all right to have him around not only for protection but also for his horse.

A while after we left Fort Caspar, there was a huge thunderstorm. Luckily, there was no damage to our supplies or wagon, but the wagon did get stuck in a muddy ditch. This is where “Red” came in good use. He tied his horse to the wagon, in between the mules and then guided the animals into pulling the wagon free.

I find it strange that he doesn’t talk much, or eat much for that matter. He’s always starring off into the sky and it makes me wonder what on Earth he could be thinking about. And then I realize that it doesn’t matter as long as it doesn’t affect my family in any sort of way.

We’re now headed to Fort Boise, but first we have to make it over the Snake River. I pray that all goes well.

August 1847

Susannah Grey

Things were fine, at first. We stopped at Shoshone Falls. It was gorgeous, but not as gorgeous as Alcove Spring. We camped near the waterfall and I fell asleep to the sweet sound of falling water. I actually got a good night’s sleep for the first time in a long time.

By the time we got to Three Island Crossing, which was the best place to cross Snake River, it started raining again. The rain made it extremely hard to get the wagon across, even with Red’s horse. It was all muddy and foggy and wet; I’m surprised none of us caught a cold. We tied Red’s horse (which I named Black Snow and Red approved of it) to the front of the wagon between Jack and Beck. Papa guided the animals, struggling to keep them above the surface, while Red and I pushed the wagon from behind. Annabelle and Henry were safe inside the wagon. We got through the struggle, all but Beck who sadly drowned.

After this hardship, we rested and dried ourselves for a little while and left, soon running into a mountain man. He had a long black beard and long black hair; so much it was almost hard to see his face. He was wearing a long fur coat and carried a brown sack and a gun. Red gave him some buffalo meat that he brought with him from Fort Caspar and in return the mountain man led us to Fort Boise.

We didn’t stay long in Boise. There was a plague spreading and we wanted to leave as soon as possible. So Papa bought some food, thanked the mountain man, and we were out of there. Luckily, none of us caught the deadly disease.

We camped some miles away from Boise and when we awoke, we found Red missing. It wasn’t until a little before noon did he come back, carrying two packages, which he gave one to me and one to Annabelle. It turned out that he went to a nearby Indian tribe and traded something for buffalo hide dresses, which fit both Annabelle and I nicely. We thanked him and I decided he wasn’t all that bad.

August 1847

Susannah Grey

We’re passing through Grande Ronde now. The valley gave us such delight because it’s a mark to show how close Oregon City is. It’s so green and lush and the weather’s nice; I don’t understand what would be so bad about settling here. But Papa had the same response as the one he did about Alcove Spring.

I’m surprised of how far we’ve made it. I honestly didn’t think this was possible. And yet somehow… in some little way it was. I can’t wait to get to Oregon City.

September 1847

Susannah Grey

We’re finally here! Oregon City! It’s smaller than what I imagined but it couldn’t be better! And what makes me even happier is that Red has decided to stay and live with us, and Papa said he didn’t mind.

Papa bought a house yesterday with lots and lots of fertile land, as far as the eye can see. It’s so lush and green. I didn’t think I’d ever be this happy again. I’m sure Mother is smiling down from heaven right now, proud of her little family.

Maybe Oregon isn’t going to be as bad as I thought. I guess I could give it a chance and hope for the best.

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