Destiny: A Novel of the Oregon Trail

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 2: Oregon Fever

Chapter 2: Oregon Fever:

Third day of the storm, and again I was able to go with Pa to the blacksmith shop. The air was crisp and cold outside, the snow finally slowing down but the wind picking up, and the fire felt good. Pa was working on a wedge for Mr. Lee and Smithy was working on another wagon wheel. The fire had to be kept hot, and that was still my job, pumping the bellows to keep the fire going.

I was away from the bellows, getting snow to cool Pa’s quenching barrel when a big man with a thick, long mustache and a hurried attitude came in, nearly knocking me over to get to the doors and dramatically swing them open.

“Got that wheel fixed for me yet? I got to get to St Josephs by the end of next week and I need to get moving. This blasted storm has thrown me off schedule.” He blustered as the wind blew snow around him and into the shop.

“You want it done right, or you want it done fast?” Smithy asked him, in his cranky, growly voice. Smithy had a body and a voice that made us kids think of a bear. He was as wide as he was tall and very hairy over all that brawn, and he seemed to growl when he spoke. “If you want that wheel to make it to St. Joe’s, I need a few more hours,” he growled, “and close that door, we need to keep the heat in here to do things right.”

I closed the doors as I came in behind him and unloaded my wet heavy load of snow in the quenching barrels, half in each barrel. It hissed and popped as the snow melted into the lukewarm water.

“What’s your hurry?” Pa asked him.

“I’m getting together men to head out to Oregon. I am supposed to meet people in St. Louis and Kanesville before I get to St Joe’s, but I am going to miss some of these meetings.” The man was blustering as he turned to go out the door. “Well, back down to the store to see about seed. I’ll be either there or in the tavern if you could send the boy to let me know when it’s done.” He went back into the blowing wind, closing the doors behind him.

“Fool” said Smithy, “who’d want to go to Oregon? Half them jackasses don’t even make it, they get themselves killed by stampedes or disease or Indians or they get there and don’t like it.”

Pa had a look in his eye, though, and though he was silent to Smithy’s comment, I knew his wheels were turning.

About two hours later, the man came back. Smithy had finished the wheel and was working on shoes for Mr. Kellogg’s horse, and Pa was working on repairing a runner for the doctor’s sled.

“It’s cooling against the south wall”, Smithy said, before the man could ask, when he came in. “I’ll be ready to put it on the wagon for you in about an hour.”

The man looked at the wheel. “You do good work. You ever thought of going to Oregon? A smith could do well out there, I heard there isn’t a one south of Fort Vancouver and the folks in the valleys do most of their own smithin’ such as they can.”

“I’m doin’ fine here” Smithy said gruffly, “I got no interest in chasin’ dreams across the world.”

Pa looked up as the man passed him, “When you leavin’ town? I might be wantin’ to talk to you.”

“Well, I’ll be headin out as soon as that wheel’s on my wagon, but if you want I got a pamphlet I can give you about Oregon. You heard of the donation land act? Congress is working on a plan that will let every man willing to go to Oregon Territory have 320 acres, every couple have 640, but to qualify, you’ll have to go soon. It’ll probably expire in a few years when Oregon has enough settlers.”

Pa was hooked, I could tell. “This land, what’s it like?”

“It’s green and fertile, beautiful country, rivers full of fish, woods full of deer, lots of cleared meadows with great grazing and cropland. First big wagon train went out there in ’43, each year there are more, and soon, all the good land will be claimed.”

“What’s the winter like?”

“Maybe a little snow, but mostly some rain and fog. Nothing like here. No tornadoes or dust storms to speak of either, and no floods if you build your house up from the rivers enough. No worries either about Malaria or Cholera or any of the other diseases people get here in the summers.”

“What about Indians?” I asked. The man looked at me and smiled.

“Indians on the way can be a problem. There was a massacre at the Whitman Mission a couple years ago, and a battle after that, but it all seems calmed now. Once you’re in Oregon, those Indians are good folk, they’ll trade with the settlers, hunt and fish for them, they live pretty lazy lives because life there is so easy they don’t have to work hard like these Indians on the prairie.”

“What about that gold rush?” Smithy piped in, “I hear tell, folks is pickin gold up outta them rivers like anything.” He sounded a little sarcastic, but we’d all heard of Sutter’s Mill last year, and the stories were almost too much to believe.

“Well, that’s California. We have something better in Oregon, land to settle in and solid good folk willin’ to work it.” The man stepped up to the fire and put his hands out enjoying the heat. “You men think on it, this opportunity won’t last forever.”

We worked silently while he enjoyed the warmth and seemed to relax a little. As I pumped the bellows, he told me about the landmarks on the trail, about Chimney Rock and Salmon Falls, about the trading forts and the mountain passes. He had gone out a few years before in ’45, but came back to lead more people out there to settle the land.

Once it was time to go, he put on his layers and opened the door and leaned into the blowing snow, Pa right behind him with the wheel to put in his wagon. When Pa came back, we all worked for another couple of hours in silence.

Finally, as the sun was going down and the wind beginning to quiet, Smithy said “Well, you best get on home. Will, I’ll start lookin for another apprentice if you are wantin’ to light out for Oregon in the Spring. You have done the work of any two men I’ve hired before and I reckon I can turn you loose a few months early.”

“Well, I ain’t goin’ nowhere unless I can talk Lizzy into it.” Pa said with a smile. “But I’ll be talkin to her for sure. Oregon sounds like what we need to get set up. Fort Des Moines isn’t big enough for two full time blacksmiths.”

Pa and I bundled up and walked out. It felt much colder now, even with less wind, than it had in the morning when we came to the shop. We couldn’t talk in the bitter cold, but I was excited. Oregon sounded like a magic place and like it might be the biggest adventure of my life.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.