SURVIVING THE OREGON TRAIL, AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD PART 3

My name is Sarah Carter and I was nine years old the day

my pa came home and said to ma “We’re moving far away!”

We’re going to go to Oregon–I hear the land is free!”

I don’t want to go to Oregon” ma said and turned to me

Go fetch your brother, wash him up, supper’s almost done–“

This another scheme of yours?” she hissed when I had gone.

But I heard the words she said, and knew that it was true,

Pa fell for ever’ get-rich-quick that fell down from the blue;

It ain’t like that!” I heard him shout and then I had to go find Bud,

That onery lil’ brother of mine was always in the mud.

But next we knew, my pa had bought a Conestoga Wagon,

And he had mama packing up, although her feet were draggin’

He had a sale and sold most ever’thing that ma called best–

Pa said she wouldn’t need her china cups when we went west.

The farm and furniture was sold and piece by piece was gone,

With the money pa bought flour and beans and things to take along,

friends came to call and say goodbye and early one May day,

We climbed into the wagon and soon were on our way.

**

At first it was a lark for Bud and me; we didn’t know no better,

and all was fine for us as long as we had sunny weather,

In Independence we met with folks and joined a wagon train,

and on the day we started out, it sure ‘nuf began to rain.

Bud and I were nestled, snug in quilts, we had no fears;

While mama cried, her head down low, so no one saw her tears,

Pa kept after those two oxen, who trudged as the mud got deeper;

I heard him swearing at the one, he swore he wouldn’t keep her.

I wish that I could say it was a lark as time went by,

But it was fearful all the way–you know, I wouldn’t lie.

Ma kept us fed with beans and salt pork and surely it was loving,

when she made a special treat with her big Dutch oven.

I remember once that Bud and I found berries growing wild,

selfishly, we ate them all-you know, I was just a child–

We crossed some rivers, scared to death, afraid that we’d all drown,

and only heaved a sigh as soon as the wagon wheels touched ground.

And late one night, I wakened when I heard a baby cry–

I wondered where it came from, but knew I mustn’t pry;

And now–my ma laid down with us in quilts that kept us warm,

I tended to the baby so he wouldn’t come to harm.

Ma was too sick to know or care and never even cried

when one night that baby boy just fell asleep and died.

Pa buried him along the trail and Bud and I found stones

to put on top that little grave, to cover up his bones.

Then it was my job to keep us fed and do ma’s chores,

Pa said that I must help them out, I was a child no more.

And then one night, a fellow who was in our wagon train

brought a baby girl to ma, ’twas in the pouring rain,

“the baby’s ma has died“, he said and asked could mama nurse her?

Inside the wagon, ma reached out; I thought that pa would curse her.

Pa said it wasn’t his place to save a babe that wasn’t kin,

The man said roughly “Keep her–I wont ask for her again!”

Well, ma perked up and took the baby girl into her arms,

She put the baby to her breast and said there was no harm,

She called the baby “Miracle” and mostly we said “Mira”

and folks all through the wagon train would come around to see her ,

And they’d bring my mother beef tea and dried fruit to make her strong,

They’d bring us food from their own stores and it wasn’t wrong,

Mira captured all the hearts of folks along our train,

and she made ma happy and getting strong again.

The baby’s father kept his word and never came around,

In his eyes Miracle had cost the man his wife,

In our eyes, Miracle had given back my mama’s life.

I  don’t remember everything–the journey west was long,

days turned to weeks and into months as we traveled on,

Until a rescue party from Oregon came to lead

us on that final leg of journey, of them we had no need,

But they brought water, coffee, things that had run out,

Bud and I got peppermints and we liked to shout.

*

I lived in Oregon all my life, married and had sons,

who married and gave me grandkids, and my life was long.

My sister, Mira, lived with me, long after mama died,

She never knew about her birth although my papa tried

a time or two to tell her, but she’d smile and hug his neck,

and pa would go look foolish and then say “Oh, what the heck!

She was our littler Mirale, my little sister, Mira,

and I always thanked the Lord that we got to keep her.

My brother Bud became a farmer and found himself a wife,

and they lived in Portland for the rest of his long life;

Pa got a notion he would go to California to find gold,

Well, you’ll go alone!” ma said and wasn’t she so bold?

So off he went to pan for gold, later we got word

that pa had died in a bar fight, that’s all we ever heard.

My mama became energized and took up farming on her own,

She had the biggest garden that there was around,

she sold her vegetables in town and quickly became known,

as having the best of everything –her fruit and taters grew

as big as melons and the beans, the best folks ever knew.

One day a week she and Mira took her produce Into town,

and quickly sold ever’ bit of it; she was well known around.

There was one time, a fellow came and asked about his sister;

I told him that we didn’t know a thing, so sorry, mister,

for Miracle was ours; when she came our lives got better,

Back on the trail with ma and pa and all of us together.

 

Sandra Lee Smith

Originally posted September 2, 2012

Updated August 30, 2018

 

 

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