Destiny: A Novel of the Oregon Trail

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Chapter 10: Fort Bridger

Chapter 10: Fort Bridger:

We got to Fort Bridger about July 30th. We were shocked that this fort did not look anything like the forts Kearney and Laramie, but looked like log cabins surrounded by tents of Indians. We were still high in the mountains and still had ice and frost in the mornings even though it was the end of July. The food there was mostly of an Indian variety, native plants that we had been passing by for weeks not knowing they were edible. Men in the trading post said that crops from the plains that we were used to wouldn’t grow there at high elevation. We traded with Indians called Shoshone, the same tribe that we saw rescue people at Green River.

At the fort, the women did most of the trading, and fish, buckskin to make moccasins, and deer and elk meat were much in demand. Some of the traders were Indian women married to French, British, or American fur traders, others were Shoshone women, who sold what their men hunted or trapped, or what they made.

Most important for all of us, we were able to repair the shoes we all struggled with by this point. Shoes were wearing down badly after almost three months of walking. There was a blacksmith at the fort, and most of the wagon trains swamped him with need for horseshoes, wagon repairs, and tools. With Pa in our wagon train, we weren’t as needy as most, but there were still things he could do in his forge that Pa couldn’t do proper on the trail. With Pa and the fort Blacksmith to repair horseshoes, and the Shoshone women to repair our shoes or provide materials for us to do it, repaired shoes were my biggest memory of Fort Bridger.

The Fort was located in a large green valley, with plenty of grass, allowing our oxen to recover from the mountain pass. Lush grass and good food was also an important part of this stop. We had been on the trail now for three months, and the rest was well needed. We heard from Mr. Jones as well as the traders that the hardest part of the trail was yet to come.

There were also a lot of Mormons. Jim Bridger didn’t seem to like them much, and their camp was separate from Fort Bridger, but not too far off, and still in the same valley. We noticed that like us, the Shoshone and other Indians traded in both camps as well. We had seen Mormons in Iowa and passed some along the trail. Many people didn’t like them much, thinking their beliefs were just too different, but Pa was pretty open to different folks and we boys were too, since we were brought up that way. The Mormons brought corn, beans, and mutton up from their Great Salt Lake area. They gave it to the weary and weak Mormon families on the last leg of their journey, but they sold it to us as well.

Pa dipped into the cash we had brought to buy some of their vegetables and wool. Ma and Nancy made us thick wool socks, and we all felt better with the soft thick cushioning on our feet. Some of the wagon train refused to buy or trade with the Mormons, and I think later, their feet regretted it.

Jim Bridger and the Mormons made us camp away from his fort and their camp and hike to do our trading, but we didn’t complain. There wasn’t much grass around the fort or the Mormon camp for our oxen, but away in the valley the grass was lush and thick, so we camped further out than most others. We stayed just one extra day, but we enjoyed the stop at Fort Bridger.

Jim Bridger often hosted a dance when a wagon train would stop, and our wagon train was no exception. He also gave us kids treats like raisins and told stories about the fur trapping days. It was a nice break, quite different from other days on the trail, and a good but short recovery before we turned north and began our trip through the mountains.

The mountains down into the Bear River Valley were steep and dry. Then we reached a stream called Thomas Fork. The slope into the stream was steep and muddy, and the oxen struggled with footing. After mishaps and near mishaps of the first few wagons, many of us later wagons decided we had to lighten our load. Ma cried, but didn’t argue with letting her dishes set by the roadside after carrying them all this way. The wagon swayed and tipped, but never tipped all the way over on the descent. The current was very fast, but the river was narrow and we made it across without a mishap. Other wagons were not so lucky. Of the forty six wagons in our wagon train, eight were damaged, two could not go on. Once again, we had to consolidate wagons and families in the wagon train, but our wagon was full with Nathan and Nancy and all five of us kids, so it was others in the wagon train that had to combine their things and people.

Once we got into the valley we had a nice few days. The Bear River Valley had a whole lot of fresh cold clean water, the valley was full of lush green grass, and the hunting was easy. Even as we made good time, we could see our oxen gain weight and we all felt better after this week of nice easy travel.

After Bear River, we found an area dryer and rougher than any we had faced before. The land had turned to a rocky, dry wasteland, and animals and men suffered for it. Big Hill was a long steep rise, that required us to double up our teams to make it to the top. It was not so steep that we were ever in danger, but it was a long, tedious, dusty hill, and we all were relieved to be past it once we completed the climb.

Soda Springs was a welcome change. The Springs were about five miles after Big Hill. They produced carbonated warm water and made a sound like a chugging steam locomotive. They also provided a great soil for grass, and the valley was once again easier on our oxen.

Ma never missed an opportunity to clean, and so she and Nancy set us boys to cleaning and we got our clothes cleaner than they had been since Iowa. We all drank the carbonated water further from the springs where it was cooler, which was quite a treat, something we remembered long after we got to Oregon.

After Soda Springs, our biggest problem was mosquitoes. Insects liked the lush grass and nice weather in this valley too. The oxen were bloody and irritable from all the bites and the rest of us weren’t much happier. The mosquitos bit all night as we tried to sleep, and kept biting through the day. The oxen were restless at night and we had to keep guards on them. They were jumpy during the day, and Pa took over driving when the team got hard to handle. It was during this stretch when we all noticed Nancy getting sick a lot. She would walk rather than ride the wagon most of the time because she said the movement made it worse. We all hoped it wasn’t cholera or some new disease. We hadn’t seen cholera since before Fort Laramie, but there were new diseases to worry about, though they weren’t as deadly. Some of the people in the wagon train got a new fever called Mountain Fever, with chills, sore joints, and achiness, which made them miserable, but didn’t kill them. But this didn’t seem to have the same symptoms. The day before we arrived in Fort Hall, Ma told us all that Nancy was pregnant. Nathan looked shocked that such a thing happened on the trail, but we all congratulated him and teased him a bit.

Fort Hall was not very memorable other than the news of the baby, and we stopped for just a day, trying to make up time. A week after Fort Hall, the miners heading to California separated from us onto their own trail. Our wagon train continued on to Oregon, but was down to just 30 wagons without these men. It was quieter too. The miners we had in our wagon train had all been a great help with the hunting, but also ate a lot and made a lot of noise around their fires at night. The wagon train felt quite different without them.

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