This post concludes the opening scene cut from the Oregon Trail chapter of A Place of Her Own, picking up where last week’s post left off and showing one more setback in Martha’s dreams of an idyllic life with Garrett. Martha has just led her eldest brother Ambrose out to the shed where the family’s wagon awaits the long journey west, the cloth cover not yet attached. As noted for Outtakes #5, the scene is divided into two parts due to its length–more than 1,900 words total, the cutting of which helped me in my struggle to reduce the word count for this book. Clip….
Martha tells her brother about the wagon Garrett built and all that she must do to have it ready for their trip west.
Photo taken by the author at the Interpretive Center at Baker City, Oregon.
Oregon Trail Preparations – Part II
Opening the shed door, she pulled it wide so the sun would cast a light on their prairie ship. The long narrow wagon bed was made of sturdy planks, but not heavy. “It’s tough wood,” she said. “But light enough the oxen can pull it over rough ground, and the yokes are light too.”
He ran his fingers across the joints. “Your husband does fine work.”
A glow flushed her cheeks at his compliment. “He’s particular about it.”
Wooden bows curved up from the wagon bed, ready for the cloth cover. “I have the cover almost done,” she said. “It’ll be two layers, a tougher linen for outside, softer muslin inside.” She showed him her calloused fingers. “It’s not easy to run stitches through that linen. I’ll be glad when it’s done. I’m making pockets on the inside to put things in. There’s so much to carry, but we can’t make it too heavy.”
He nodded. “Lots to think about.”
“Oh yes. Thoughts come to me, even in the night. I have to remember every little thing, this thing and another, and how I’m going to pack it so it’s safe. Ambrose, a person can die out there if they don’t have just what they need.”
“I still have to get the food ready and bags to hold it all.” She ticked off the list in her mind–hams and bacon, cheese, rice, coffee, tea, beans, flour, cornmeal, crackers, hard biscuits, lard, dried apples and peaches and prunes. They’d take cows with them and make butter on the way, maybe a couple of chickens in a crate. They’d need pickles to protect them from scurvy on the plains where they’d have no fresh fruits or vegetables. Garrett would bring in game.
She went on. “Besides the food, we need medicines–a box of physic pills, castor oil, peppermint, whiskey.” She also had clothes to make. A new flannel dress, some jeans pants for Garrett. New stockings to knit. More yarn for knitting on the trail. Dresses all cut out for the girls and some muslin shirts for Garrett, ready to pick up and sew when she had a spare moment along the way. Sarah Catherine and her mother had helped. It was good Sarah and young Perry would be staying with their mother.
Ambrose chuckled. “I can see your mind working now. You’ll be all right, Martha. A lot of people are going, and if they can make it you can. You have a good mind.” He rubbed a hand over the wagon’s smooth joints. “And your husband is–well, let’s say if I was going into the wilderness, I’d be happy to be in his company.”
She lifted her chin and glanced out the shed door. “He is a frontiersman, all right. You should see him in his buckskins when he goes out hunting, carrying that long rifle. I don’t remember a time he ever came home empty-handed.”
“You’ll be glad for that out on the prairies.”
Sugar nickered, and Martha went outside to see who she was talking to. The mare stood with head high, ears sharply forward, looking toward the big house. The distant sound of baying hounds echoed through the trees. Riders emerged. Garrett and the boys. Already. “They must have worked things out pretty fast.”
When the three came closer, she frowned. Garrett wasn’t riding with his usual flowing grace. He looked tight, out of rhythm with the horse. Galloping up to the cabin, he pulled his horse up short and swung to the ground, jaw clenched, eyes hard. Without looking at Martha, he led the animal straight to the shed and began unsaddling.
She hurried to his side. “What wrong?”
He kept his eyes on the cinch he was undoing, and his voice rasped with anger. “I’m not going anywhere with that bunch. We aren’t going this year.”
Martha looked at the new wagon, then back at her husband. “What do you mean?”
“Larry and Newt–they’re gonna go this year–just horseback, maybe take a packhorse, maybe not.”
Martha had been working so hard, hurrying to get it all done. She felt as if she’d been running across the grass and tripped on an unseen stone and the ground had come up to hit her in the face. Aware of her brothers walking up behind with their own horses, she turned to see if either of them could make sense of this for her.
Larry spoke before she could ask. “We’ll check out Oregon and let you know what we find.”
“But . . . but what happened with the Ray County company?”
“There were . . .” Larry shrugged. “. . . disagreements.”
“Can’t we find another company?” Martha’s voice rose. “We’ve done so much work to get ready, and with–”
Garrett cut her off. “Then we’ll be good and ready next year.” He gave the horse a rubdown, pulled some hay down from the loft of the shed and piled it on the ground, then stomped away, retreating into the house.
Martha stood staring after him, trying to take in what he’d said. She’d been uncertain about this trip in the first place, wondering about the timing, among so many other doubts. Louisa was a baby. It wouldn’t be easy with a baby as well as a toddler. Nora wouldn’t be three until September. And there was his pa’s estate. How could Garrett leave before that was settled? But when he insisted they would do the trip this year, she’d nursed her own wanderlust and actually developed a growing excitement about it. Now they were just going to drop the plan?
Larry put a hand on her shoulder. “It wouldn’t be good for Garrett to go with that company. They’re a persnickety bunch, all full of dos and don’ts, and you know how Garrett is.”
Newt let out a soft laugh. “I thought he was going to hit that guy when he–”
“Newt.” Larry’s sharp voice stopped his brother.
Martha pinched her brow, lifting her hands. “But can’t we find another company? Can’t we go over to St. Joseph or Independence–one of those jumping off places–like other folks do? Ray County isn’t far, and Garrett thought it’d be good to travel with folks from home, but other people go to those towns and find companies there.”
Larry shook his head, looking at the ground between them. “He seems to have his mind set. Besides, he says he’d better stay on account of the estate. It isn’t quite done yet.”
“The estate?” Martha said. “I asked him about that before and he shrugged it off. Now it’s important? Why? Because he’s mad at somebody?”
Larry’s eyes began to smile. “That’s about it.”