Some of the trains were big ones and the people paid a wagon master to guide them and assure them the best way to proceed. Eventually many went by themselves or in family groupings, some with just carts. For some they barely saw an Indian but especially with the southern route, some wagon trains were massacred.
The Indians who lived in the Plains were assured, to begin, that these people only wanted to pass through. Eventually they came to see that wasn't the case. Treaties were made and broken and finally there became more assaults in an attempt by both cultures to get or keep what they had. Cholera was more of a risk though than being killed by an Indian, still it was the more exciting story to put into pulp fiction with lurid covers.
It's hard to even imagine today what it meant to those first settlers who left family and friends they were likely never to see again. To begin even to hear by mail wasn't that dependable.
So the journey and the courage of those who took the risk fascinated me, living here in Oregon, as well as my seeing it as allegorical for our own journey to maturity.
This particular story began for me, probably about age 17, when my cousin and I would go for walks during big family gatherings. I started it off, and she'd pick up pieces of the story of two young people, friends from very different families, who began this route in Missouri. It was pretty simple back in those days versus how it became as I grew in maturity and saw deeper levels to it. From telling it orally, it was written down with one of my first 'Underwood' typewriter when I was in my early twenties.
image from CanStockFrom there, it was written again and again. Finally I chose it to work with a consulting writer after an agent suggested I'd be ahead for doing such craft developing work. That professional had helped a lot of published writers get there and I have to say my time with her was productive, expensive, and taught me so much about how to make a story come alive. I didn't actually send the manuscript off to a regular publisher, but I did keep working to make it better, fuller, more truly the story that I had in my head.
from Baker City Oregon Trail museum.
To write this book I spent a lot of time researching old journals, and history books. I live on a small ranch that was one of those original Donation Land Claims and the story of the couple who raised a family here was a pretty inspiring one also. To find what I needed, I went through a lot of museum where their whole story is about the trip West. I know a lot about that journey. One of the things I learned from the consulting writer was not to put out all you know and instead to let it permeate your story as it would the lives of your characters as they live out what you imagined.
I was almost afraid to read it again after my disappointment with Sky Daughter which I had re-edited for the zillionth time last month. I've seen a lot of first novels by writers where they hadn't gotten it out and years later, when they do, I've ended up thinking they should have never brought it out. I wondered if that's how this one would strike me. It had a few drawbacks for me in that I don't much like stories of kids or the very young adults-- to read or write. So I started into it with some trepidation, but it held up for me better than I expected. It was epic in the story of the journey these people went on but the two young people go on the kind of epic journey that we go on when we begin a new relationship-- most especially when it's love which can be the greatest challenge any of us will find as we are forced, at any age, to grow in maturity through those kinds of feelings.
Ben Kern Wagon Train.