Destiny: A Novel of the Oregon Trail

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Chapter 20: Reunions

Chapter 20: Reunions:

It was a fun trip. We were all excited to see our grandparents and my uncle and his family, excited that they would see in a little over a year all we had accomplished. We had more in Oregon, a nicer house, more stored food, cattle, a forge of our own, than we had ever had in Fort Des Moines. There was no guarantee it would last, but it was a very promising start and we were eager to share it with family. John and Elizabeth Leasure, Ma’s parents, would stay with us for the winter, and in the spring, we’d help them find a place and build a home. Uncle George and Bessie and their kids would stay with Nancy and Nathan on their homestead, then find their own place in the spring.

Pa gave James a break from the smithy, and hired a young man as a helper. James and John and Warren took care of the new homestead, now that the wheat and garden were in, we had officially abandoned the old one. Meanwhile, I escorted Nancy, Ma and the three young kids up to Oregon City to meet our grandparents.

It was mid September. We had last seen my grandparents in April of 1850, so it had been two and a half years since we left Fort Des Moines and saw them last. Our trip across the plains had been challenging, and I wondered how my grandparents had stood the trip at their advanced age. We didn’t know when they would arrive exactly, but most wagon trains came into Oregon City in September or October. The drive up the valley to Oregon City was uneventful. There had not yet been much rain, and though there was no road much of the way, the prairie was smooth enough that it was all right. Ma kept exclaiming over every new cabin or tilled field. Though just a year and three months had passed since she made the journey down from Champoeg, a lot of new building had occurred and she was impressed at the settling of the valley. It took us two days to get to Salem. Ma was more impressed with Salem and its growth than any other site.

Salem had grown into a real town with a couple of grist mills, a saw mill, and over fifty houses. It was at least as big as Champoeg, probably a little bigger by this point.

The road between Salem and Oregon City was better than most any other south of Oregon City and the jostling Ma had endured on the rolling prairie was reduced considerably during this last part of the trip.

When we arrived in Oregon City, it was quite similar to when we had arrived here two years ago. We made our way to the steamship office to ask whether there was a Leasure on their manifests but they had none yet. We had no way to contact them if they were on the trail, and no way to find them if they were waiting in Oregon City for us other than to simply look.

That first day, we asked at the steamship office, at every store in town, and rode around to look at some of the camps around town. The second day, I tried to hit all the other camps I had missed, and by that evening, I was sure they were not there yet. So now, we just had to wait. We settled into a hotel, and it turned out to be the one Lucinda was working at.

Ma and Nancy were thrilled, and when she got off of work, Lucinda came up to our room and her little John played with the Allen and both baby Thomases, while Ma and Nancy talked to Lucinda. I just sat there awkwardly, recognizing again how beautiful she was.

Just one day after checking at the camps, the steamship was back and we waited at the dock to see if they were there. They were not, and we decided to see the new town of Portland while we had to wait around. We took the ferry across the river, and rode along a good strong road up to Portland. Portland had grown up in two years from one man’s claim to a prosperous city. It was about 20 miles down the Willamette River from Oregon City. One advantage to Portland was that it was much easier for large ships to get there because the Willamette River was much wider there than further up at Oregon City. There were no town sites on the Columbia until you got about 30 miles northwest of the mouth of the Willamette in St. Helens because of the swampy, frequently flooded land. So this site of Portland was the closest place for ocean going ships to dock and unload. More and more of the wheat and goods shipped to and from San Francisco for the California gold fields were coming into and out of this town instead of Oregon City.

It turned out that it was a good thing we went to Portland because Uncle George and my grandparents were there. They had ridden canoes down the Columbia, then were left in Portland. They had not been able to get steamship tickets to Oregon City because the steamships were all full of goods.

Uncle George had reassembled the wagons, and they were getting them packed back up to ride the road down to Oregon City. We helped them pack and then rode the twenty miles back down to Oregon City. George and Bessie were exhausted, glad to be here, but doing well. They had seven kids, six girls and a boy. The youngest was 2 years old, born after we left Fort Des Moines and her name was Cora, while the only boy William was seven and the oldest daughter Hannah was 14.

My grandparents, John and Mary Ann, were tough. They hardly even seemed tired. Apparently, my grandpa had driven his wagon the whole way and not needed any help though he was almost seventy.

We spent a night in the hotel in Oregon City and bought a few things for the home. Ma bought a stove, something we couldn’t carry with us from Iowa, and some fabric to make more clothing and some leather for shoes and harnesses.

Then we went to dinner at McLoughlin’s house and paid him back for his kindness to us two years before. Dr. McLoughlin had aged considerably in two years. The legislature had passed a bill that took his land claim from him because he had been British when he made the claim, though he was American now. He had been shocked by how many people had impinged his character, even men he had freely helped. He was still the same lively, caring man, but the experience had changed something in him and he didn’t have the same spark.

George and Bessie and their girls and our grandparents were full of stories of the trail. Indians sounded more aggressive now than they had been two years ago, smaller wagon trains had been attacked along the Snake River. Bridger and the Mormons were almost at battle, the anger had grown so much, and Uncle George thought Bridger was going to leave the area. Cholera was worse even than the year we traveled, and worse, the Indians had cholera now, and blamed the wagon trains with good reason.

Lucinda was there for dinner as well, and had a few stories of her own. After her late husband’s parents died, she had men young and old offering to be her protector if she married them. In the end, she had driven her own wagon most of the way, and in the roughest parts of the trail, one of three elderly brothers in the wagon ahead of her would drive for her. She talked of coming down to Salem or Eugene City, once she had saved up enough money, and opening a boarding house.

We all retired early, planning to leave early in the morning. We got up on a blustery grey windy day and made our way south. Grandma Mary Ann marveled at how smooth the road to Salem was after the roads they had seen on the Oregon Trail. Ma warned her that below Salem, they would be back on prairie, but even then, unless it got too muddy, it would be an easier drive than the trek through the deserts and mountains that she had just been on.

Uncle George kept exclaiming how much he liked the land here, the rolling low grasslands, as we traveled along the east bank of the river. We made it to Salem that first night, even with the slow wagons, because of the smooth road. It rained on and off for the three days it took us the travel from Salem to Eugene City. Enough people had made the trip that there was a rough track along the river. The wagons, pulled by oxen, were much slower than our buckboard pulled by horses, and we had to keep slowing down and waiting for them.

They were impressed with the growing towns of Independence and Corvallis, and with the steam ship they saw making its way back to Oregon City from Corvallis. I had to work hard not to get too distracted thinking about Lucinda and wondering why I got tongue tied whenever I was around her.

When we got to the Eugene City Ferry, it was near dark, and Pa was just closing up the smithy. He saw us at the ferry, and came over to say hello to his in-laws and make them welcome.

Well, this looks a right prosperous town.” Said my grandfather John. “I think we ought to look for a claim right around here somewhere.”

“You wanting a land claim, or a town lot, Pa?” Ma said to him, turning in surprise

“Well of course I want a land claim.” Grandpa said, “I ain’t in the grave yet, and I’m fixin to work me some land. Think I might grow some corn though and get hogs. Always want to look for what folks in a place don’t have enough of and fill their need.”

“Well, Grandpa, I got the letter right here that appoints Nathan as surveyor, so as we introduce you to Nancy’s husband, he can help you set up a claim.” I said.

“No need to rush, boy, we can’t plant until the spring and so we can settle in a bit before we find our claim.”

Pa sent me on his horse up to get the boys from our home, and we all went to Nathan and Nancy’s place to have a big welcome dinner. Then, while George and Bessie settled in at Nancy’s place, Grandpa John and Grandma Mary Ann followed us back to our home that night. We all settled in for a winter full of family and friendships renewed.

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