The following is part of a scene that originally opened the Oregon Trail chapter of A Place of Her Own, and now becomes a part of this Outtakes series of scenes cut from the book. The segment shows Martha with her oldest brother Ambrose, who moved from Illinois to Missouri sometime before the 1850 census. It’s a pleasant scene and tells about the preparations for that amazing trek west to Oregon. But altogether it’s over 1,900 words, and it didn’t move the story sufficiently to hold its place. This was the cut that convinced me I could actually trim the book by the necessary 22,000 words. Yay! Clip…..
Note: I’m dividing the scene into Part I and Part II because it’s so long.
Garrett built a wagon like this for their family, and Martha sewed the cover.
Photo taken by the author at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center at Baker City, Oregon.
Oregon Trail Preparations – Part I
Ray County, Missouri, April 1849. Their small Missouri cabin echoed with quiet as Martha sat next to her oldest brother Ambrose before the low fire. Only the steady whisk of the rockers sounded above the soft snap of coals as Ambrose leaned back in Martha’s rocking chair and moved slowly back and forth, while she perched on the edge of a stool and poked at the fire. The homey scent of the hearth wafted through the room.
Garrett had left for town with Larry and Newt, while Ambrose stayed behind with her. “They didn’t need me,” Ambrose said. “I thought this was a good chance to visit with you.”
Garrett and the boys went to talk with some folks who were trying to put together a company from Ray County to travel together to Oregon. Martha was glad Ambrose rode over from Carroll County with the younger two. Although she regretted Doc didn’t join them, she appreciated a chance to spend time with her oldest brother.
Larry and Newt had come to Missouri early this spring, still full of excitement about Oregon. A veritable land of milk and honey, to hear them tell it. Garrett wanted to sell the Missouri place and get on his way. But it wasn’t that easy.
Ambrose and his wife Polly had finally moved to Missouri the year before and lived with their family in the cabin Simpson built for himself on Doc’s second forty over in Carroll County. Oregon fever hadn’t quite hit Doc or Ambrose, but Martha had trouble imagining her next step west without Doc.
Garrett had been working on him. “The future’s in Oregon, Doc. Too many people in Missouri.”
“Well, there’s California.”
Last December when President Polk confirmed rumors about gold in California, Martha had seen the sudden glint in Garrett’s eyes, as if reflecting a bit of that gold.
“Not the best place for families, though,” Doc had said.
Now, glancing at their new baby Louisa in her cradle, born that very month of December, Martha remembered wondering if Garrett might just go without her and the girls. But his talk still focused on Oregon.
She smiled at Ambrose. A soft-spoken man, he exuded a kind of self-assurance that put her at ease, a trace of gray in his beard and hair giving him a distinguished look. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said, meaning it more than she knew how to say. He’d been like a pa to her these last few months, now that their own pa was gone. Heaving a sigh, she stood and looked out the gleaming glass window of her cabin to the pasture where her mare Sugar grazed, Howard’s gift. “I wish I could have been there when Pa went. And Ma, so soon after. Do you think they ever forgave me?”
“They loved you.”
A heavy band seemed to tighten across her chest. “I know, but did they forgive me?”
She turned to see her brother’s gentle expression, the warmth in his eyes, the slightest curve of his lips as he spoke. “It’s hard to say with them. You know they never said a lot about things like that. But you can’t change it now, Martha.”
She looked out at Sugar again. “No.”
“I’ve no doubt Doc thought he was in the right to give your consent. Pa did tell him he had full responsibility for you. I heard him. Now, Pa may not have thought through what that could mean, but he said it.” Ambrose got up and came to her, setting a tender hand on her shoulder. “It isn’t easy to get through life without some trials with those you love. But when it’s done and you can’t do any more about it you can’t dwell on the trials–just the love. Somehow I think they understand now.”
Martha batted her eyes, moist with tears. “You boys all scattered soon after, didn’t you? You came here, now Larry and Newt.”
“And Simpson followed Stephen to Scott County. I don’t know what Ben will do.”
Lifting her shoulders high, then dropping them, Martha turned and grasped Ambrose’s arm. “Let me show you what we’ve done to get ready for Oregon. It’s going to be an amazing trip, Ambrose. I wish you’d think about it.”
He laughed, a hand on his soft beard. “I’ll think about it, but I hear they need a Justice of the Peace in Carroll County, and I think I’ll give that a try for now.”
“Justice of the Peace?” She smiled. “You’d be good at that. Come on outside. I’ll show you the wagon.” She tiptoed over to where the girls were napping–Louisa in the cradle, Nora on the small mat beside. Sleeping soundly. Nodding to Ambrose, she slipped out of the cabin to lead him to the shed out back, leaving the cabin door open so she could hear if the girls woke. “They should sleep awhile longer. Come see. We’ve done a lot of work already.”
Part II next week…