About an hour ago my husband and I returned from a trip down along the Oregon Trail. Considering I had just finished reading this book Friday evening it was fitting to pause and visualize those wagons heading in our direction. I admit the experiences seem daunting to me. Could I have made this trek? Walking beside a wagon for hours, then trying to bake cornbread on the lid of a cast iron dutch oven seems a trial. Anticipating what the conditions would be like and finding the path narrowing onto a cliff above deep canyons takes my breath away as it must have for the emigrating families. Continually weeding out possessions to lighten the load would be so difficult. After carefully choosing what to bring and what to leave behind would have already been a painstaking process. Tabby's daughter Pherne, unsure of the journey to begin with left behind her fine furnishings and books that she treasured.
Tabby Brown began the journey with her family and were led by her oldest son Orus. He had taken this journey before and the plan was to follow the Columbia. Tabby's wagon was driven alongside her daughter Pherne and son-in-law Virgil, their family and Tabby's brother-in-law John. They were separated from Orus with the distance growing day by day. Eventually they were two weeks behind Orus. Tabby and her group were approached by the Applegates and a Mr. Scott who sold them the idea of avoiding the dangerous Columbia by following a new trail from the bottom of the territory, working up to where Orus had built a cabin. They were convinced this shortcut would land them at their destination before the experienced Orus arrived.
After careful consideration the group followed the Applegate Trail and from there on the journey went from difficult to brutal. The slow pace of travel on roads that were carved during the journey was hard on everyone. Provisions ran short along with tempers. Sickness and near starvation made it difficult for the travelers to persevere. Broken wagon tongues and wheels, dying oxen and the death of family members are hard for me to imagine. I admire all who made it to their destination because they were courageous people whose indomitable spirit paved the way in which the west was settled.
Jane Kirkpatrick has once again used her talent in a compelling way to bring the story of a woman who could have just been one of a group who survived a harrowing journey along the Applegate Trail. What is important is that there are many people who took what they experienced and shaped an important part of the history of our great western states. Many people who courageously made their way west for 640 acres lost their lives or were separated from their families. A whole group of young people were impacted by this. Also about this time the Whitman Massacre devastated the area and left more orphans. Tabby Brown now saw her purpose at the end of the trail and while she could have retired in comfort with either Orus or Pherne she founded an orphanage and school in Forest Grove, not far from what is today known as Portland Oregon. She enlisted the help of missionaries Harvey and Emmaline Clark and founded what is known as Pacific University today. She did finally move in with her daughter Pherne, but only a few months shy of her death at 78.
Journals, diaries and notes on scrap paper have brought to light many bits and pieces of what happened on the great migration west. Many thanks to those who have revered these glimpses to the past and to authors like Jane Kirkpatrick who bring these important stories to light. I received this book from Revell for review and thank them for the opportunity to read it and learn from it.