“Go west, young man, and make something of your life.” His father himself had lived the frontier life, and in the years since he settled down and married, the frontier town became a safe haven where middle-aged men grew fat and glassy-eyed, while their children lifted their eyes from tending the ground to bickering over inheritances. His father didn’t leave any, and George didn’t want it any other way. The West was were you could still discover yourself, and not be defined by your past.
No wagoners were left in this town, so he had to figure out how to build his own – at least one able to survive the 1000+ mile trek. He’d never been that handy. But day after day he tinkered, tested, and finally built his wagon. Sold his farm, bought two oxen, and launched out into the great unknown. Hopefully, the wagon would hold up.
George planned to make a straight shot through the plains and to the Rockies where the gold and copper was found. But halfway into the trip, things took a turn for the worst. Game got scarce, his purse ran thin, and in the span of two days an axle broke and one of his oxen got sick. The only contact with civilization were the Sioux who watched from a distance, ready to loot his corpse and wagon should he fall. If it were earlier in the journey, he could just turn back. But not now.
He’d tinker and test to solve his problems, one at a time. Game and coin seemed like the biggest problems, but were actually the smallest. If he could get past the middle of the plains, game would come again, and he picked up the skill of skinning rabbits for fur to trade with the Sioux. He only had to get his wagon up and moving, and heal his oxen.
The oxen needed rest, and medicine. He would have to place his trust in the Sioux – they newthe land and vegetation better than he did, and what would cure his ox. But why would they help him, instead of poisoning his ox and watching him die? He figured it out. Maps. If he communicated that he would give them maps and explain them, he would give them something they couldn’t get just by looting his corpse. He would lose his maps, sure, but he had seen them enough to know the route by heart.
It would be too much to ask to repair his axle, and he didn’t want to seem desperate or hopeless. Tying the axle was the first thing that came to mind. But he knew it would break with the rocks and rough road. But then he remembered – the road hadn’t been that rough out here in the plains. It was only when he would get closer to the mountains that the terrain would get more difficult, and his tie would come loose or tear. But by that point, there would be trees to make a new axle.
So that’s what George did. He traded medicine for knowledge of the maps with the Indians. First they gave him the medicine, for which he traded them 1 map, and a promise of all of them upon health of the oxen. His oxen healed, he explained to them how to read them, where landmarks were, and distances. Late in the night, he stripped off his shirt, and tied it around the broken axle bit, then cemented it in place with water, dirt and clay. He left without delay.
Before he left, he had pointed out where he was going on the map. The Indian shook his head, pointed to the water, then pointed that out on the map. There, beyond the Rockies, was where he would find a new place to settle and make something of himself.