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Scenes on the Oregon Trail

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April 2, 1843
Dear Diary,
In the three weeks since my family left our home for the new land of Oregon, the view from our covered wagon has been much the same. Most of the Iowa territory consists of mile after mile of dry prairie grass, which waves slowly in the wind until you are almost seasick. Sometimes we pass a herd of buffalo gazing at us with big empty eyes, their dark matted coats a welcome contrast to the endless grass. We have finally adjusted to the stench of buffalo and oxen dung which permeates the air.
All of the furniture and household items we could pack are stuffed inside the overcrowded wagon leaving barely room for us to ride. Instead, my family takes turns riding and walking, and the animals have less weight to pull. Although the ride is jarring and rough, it is far easier than trudging down the trail under the blazing sun.
The early afternoon is my turn to ride. With my legs dangling from the front of the wagon, I watch heat waves swivel dizzyingly from the earth to the sky. From here, I can see the lumpy white line of wagons snaking along the trail, all drawn by fat, ornery oxen. Beside each team trudges a man or a boy, covered in prairie dust and sweat and carrying a stick to prod the oxen. Every so often one of their sharp rebukes pierces the blistering silence. Beside the trail we often see the crude grave markers of those who travelled before us but never made it. Sometimes we find no marker, just a pile of bleached bones scavenged by the Indians. At this, the frightened children begin to cry and the grown-ups turn away soberly. How terrible! But we travel on. I am weary of this oppressive heat and irritable with boredom. Perhaps we will soon reach the mountains and or a fort.
Jennie

May 16, 1843
Dear Diary,
Our wagon train arrived at Fort Kearney this afternoon. I nearly cried with disappointment when our guide pointed it out to us. I refuse to call this shabby group of mud buildings a 'fort.' No large protective wall surrounds Fort Kearney. A few disorderly soldiers wander around in their ragged once-blue uniforms with a drunken swagger, their faces bristly, and their oily, knotted hair hanging in uneven strands below their shoulders. The scents of sweat and whiskey waft over to the wagon. My two older sisters pinch their noses delicately and gape at the soldiers through holes in the cloth as we wait for Mother and Father to return from the Fort's dilapidated store.
Mother emerges first, clutching a small slip of paper to her faded yellow dress. Wisps of hair encircle her slender face like a cloud as her tired green eyes light up with pleasure. A letter from home! She hurries across the parched sand to read it to us.
"Dearest Anne, I have much news to tell you! In late March, your sister Margaret gave birth to a strong and healthy baby boy. They named him Daniel, and he has a head of dark hair and blue eyes like his father. Adam and Mary's wedding was beautiful. I wish you could have seen Mary in the dress you made her. Young Joshua and Catherine West have announced their engagement and plan to be married in the fall. Little Helen caught the fever soon after you left, and for a week we thought we would lose her, but she is recovering well now. Old Mrs. Anders also caught the fever, but she was too weak to bear it. The funeral was last Saturday. We miss you terribly. Write soon. Love always, Mother"
So much has happened since we left! I have a new cousin, and my sister Mary is a wife! I can hardly believe my best friend Catherine is going to be married. How strange it seems that births, weddings, sickness, and death go on without us. Grandmother's letter will be read over and over until it is memorized, for it may be months before we receive another.
Father has finally returned from the store, frustrated and defeated. Prices are outrageously high on the trail, and we pay dearly for everything we buy. It is close to supper time and hunger pains are gnawing at my stomach. Mother unpacks one of the packages Father brought and begins prepare our supper. Our meal will be beans, dried fruit, rice, and coffee. Again. How I detest those beans. The other packages hold nothing but some flour, sugar, bacon, lard, and a few spices. My youngest sister begins to cry. I think have lost my appetite.
Jennie

July 4, 1843
Dear Diary,
How appropriate that we have reached Independence Rock on Independence Day! After travelling through the Wyoming Territory for almost a week and a half, we now camp beneath the great grey monster. From a distance, the enormous rock cuts a lonely outline against the clear blue sky and the emerald meadow. Our guide says the giant piece of granite is 1,900 feet long, 700 feet wide, and 128 feet high! The cool solid surface soothes my sunburned cheeks, and the air is sweet from the flowers in the grasses. Thousands of names and initials scar the rock where passing travelers have left their marks. Rain and wind have worn away some messages until they are illegible, but one reads 'John Lukas, 1842,' and another simply 'RTD.' A sharp, fresh group of letters marches across a small section of the giant rock: 'JCB.' Jennie Clara Buntsford. Father has carved my initials into history.
Jennie

August 30, 1843
Dear Diary,
We have spent the last few days camped here in Idaho at beautiful Shoshone Falls. Although we had not originally planned to pass by the Falls, the sight of them was more than worth the detour. Our guide says Shoshone is higher than New York's Niagra Falls at an extraordinary 212 feet! Tens of thousands of gallons of water rush over the vast cliff every moment. The thick wall of water crashing into the pool below is deafening. Huge jagged rocks cling to the top of the Falls just before the edge. Mist and foam cloud the base of the Falls and spray us gently in the camp. We have been able to wash clothes, dishes, and tools in the clear water, as well as finally bathe all the crusty dust and dirt off of our skin. How heavenly to be clean and fresh again! I would love to stay here forever on these rocky, moss-covered cliffs beside the falls, breathing in the sweet steamy breeze and floating in the cool refreshing water. We will all be sorry to take leave of Shoshone Falls tomorrow.
Jennie

September 18, 1843
Dear Diary,
We are rejoicing today, for we have reached the Oregon Territory! Before us stretches the enormous Grande Ronde Valley. Lush mountains ascend to the cloudless sky on every side of the fertile valley. A fragrant little flower called the 'camash root' tints the entire valley blue, like a shadow. Tall evergreens and other foliage speckle the great green bowl, stretching out their branches to us in welcome. Herds of wild elk and other game roam through the valley. The revitalizing wind whistles through the valley, tousling our hair. This rich valley is the land of plenty we have been hoping for. I wish to settle here in the Grande Ronde Valley, but Father says we will continue further into Oregon and settle closer to other people. I do not understand why we are leaving this wonderful farmland behind, but I am so glad we are finally in Oregon! What a glorious place this is!
Jennie





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