In the beginning, it was a lark,

children ran alongside the prairie

schooner, gathering wildflowers,

shouting to one another, full of

energy and–as my grandpa would

say–piss and vinegar, so that when

the day’s journey was ending and the

covered wagons  drew into a circle

as protection from varmints and

Indians, we children were a healthy

exhausted, ready to fall asleep on

my mama’s quilts, that we laid under

the wagon, where we could watch the

fires die down, until we fell asleep.

But on the third day, It began to rain,

a cold, wet, sleety rain that came down

sideways, getting everyone and everything

wet, even inside the prairie schooner.

The baby fretted with colic and my mama

was waspish with my papa. The three of us

children huddled together under a  larger

homemade quilt, cranky and irritable

ourselves and we wondered would it

be like this all the way to Oregon?

But on the fourth day, the sun shone

brightly again.  I could not tell you the

the names of the territories we crossed

and in my memory, the prairie was

endless–plaint and flat and utterly

boring. My mama found a little notebook

in her reticule along with a  pencil; she gave

these things to me to keep a journal, making

observations of the many different kinds of

wildflowers we saw along the way; she

said I might want to take note of them

and on that fourth day I began keeping a

diary in that little brown notebook.

On the seventh day the wagon train rested

even though many of the men wanted to

keep going but it gave the mothers time

to wash some clothing in a nearby river

and the men could repair any of the

harnesses or other things that needed repair.

My mama was disgusted with the muddy river

water that didn’t really clean anything even

though mama brought along a good supply

of lye soap that she learned how to make

from her mother.

Later in the day, we gathered in the

center of the circle and said some prayers

but our group was of many different religions

and not inclined to say another person’s prayers.

Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into

months;  I have thankfully forgotten many of the

incidents that occurred on the trail, some of them

tragic–like the family that lost a little boy

and when they went back to search for him,

he was not there, or another child falling off the

buckboard and under the wheels of the

prairie schooner, crushed to death. Sometimes we saw

Indians off in the distance but they did not trouble us.

Months later our wagon train reached Oregon, where

we were warmly welcomed by pioneers who had gone

before us.  And our lives in Oregon – that was another new

beginning.  But in my mind I always remember the children

walking and running alongside the wagon trains on that

first day, the beginning of  our journey  into the unknown.


Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted January 27, 2012

Updated August 26, 2018






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