Destiny: A Novel of the Oregon Trail

All Rights Reserved ©

Chapter 5: St. Joseph, Missouri

Chapter 5: St. Joseph, Missouri:

We made up for our slow travel over the next few days. Even with the heavier wagon and loaded horses, we traveled 14 miles that day and 12 the next. By the 26th of April, we were on the outskirts of St. Joe’s and were ready for our real adventure to begin.

That first morning after we arrived, John and I rode with Pa into the town. St. Joseph was a busy town, about three times as big as Fort Des Moines, made even bigger with the surrounding sea of tents and wagons that we’d never seen the like of. The town itself was dusty with a wide dirt street and a line of stores and saloons along the main street. It looked much bigger than it probably was with all the wagon camps surrounding it. Even without them, it was much big enough to overwhelm me.

The noise, like a hive of angry bees, was constant, punctuated with gunshots, blacksmith hammers, whip cracks, and even laughter or shouts. The smell was a bouquet of wet horse, stale sweat, tobacco smoke and pungent fresh horse dung. It was the smell of a crowd and after weeks on the road, it burned the nose.

Pa went into a store and waited in line while John and I stood out front and waited.

“Looks like a busy place.” John said slowly, “Maybe she could do all right here.” I looked at the town, full of teamsters and bearded swearing men. Women were scarce on the crowded streets, though the sound of female voices came from the saloon.

“I don’t know about that.” I replied, “seems a bit rough for her sort.” As I looked around and noticed the faces, I saw anxious men, angry men, and confused men. No greetings in the street like in our small town, no leaning on a fencepost or lounging on a porch for these people, everyone had a purpose and a fire in their belly and they all wanted to be somewhere else it seemed like.

Some were wearing the flannel and denim of miners, others the leather chaps of cowboys, still others the wool or cotton of small town farmers. But they all had that distracted impatient air about them that made the whole town seem unfriendly.

Pa came out of the store and motioned to us. “There’s an old woman runs a boardin’ house down the way.” He said to us, “Man in there thinks she might be looking for a woman to clean rooms and serve meals. I am going to check it out, you boys stay out of trouble.”

He walked off down the street leaving us behind. John and I walked slowly the other direction looking around us. We passed a corral where all the horses looked old, broken down, or wild eyed, but people were looking them over and buying just the same. We could hear the sounds of poker chips and men shouting and smell the whiskey coming from many of the places but we avoided those, knowing Ma would never approve. We walked into a busy store and saw lots of things for sale, tin pans, pick axes, sluices, all the things needed to mine for gold, but the crowds jostled us as they searched for their purchases.

There seemed to be far more people here going to the gold mines of California rather than the settlements of Oregon, and the material in the store confirmed that. Much of it looked used and all of it was overpriced. In the winter as we tried to learn anything and everything about Oregon, we had heard that prices were much lower in St. Joseph than they were in Independence, but they were high enough here that we had a hard time believing that. But people paid willingly and especially the miners. The men didn’t seem to haggle at all, but just take what they needed at whatever the price.

We walked out and saw a line of Indians stagger by. It looked like they had got money somewhere and got themselves good and drunk. Some people along the street were calling out at them and making fun of them, while others avoided them entirely. Another line of Indians rode by, sober and almost noble, leading a line of pack ponies laden with bundles of fur.

We saw so much that we were overwhelmed, especially by the noise and crowding, and we started walking back towards the store where Pa would come back for us.

In the distance, I saw the man Jones from Fort Des Moines with his thick and blowing moustache. He too looked rushed and impatient, like most of the people here, and just like he had last winter when it had seemed strange and out of place in Fort Des Moines. I told John who it was, and we rushed over to him and startled him.

“Who are you boys? He glanced at me, “You do sort of look familiar.”

“I am Will, you talked to my father Will Luckey in the Blacksmith’s shop in Fort Des Moines. This is my brother John.”

“Oh yes, our blacksmith.” His distracted look was replaced with a smile, “There are many who didn’t believe me when I said we had a blacksmith for the wagon train. Where are you all camped?”

“East of town ’bout two miles or so, near a dirty little creek.” Piped in John.

“Your Pa send you boys into town alone? I don’t know whether I would in a town like this.”

“No he’s here, we helped a young woman and her son on the trail after her husband died and he’s looking to find her work here.” I commented.

“Well that was mighty kind of you all, but we gotta get ourselves together and get our wagon train out to the river crossing as soon as we can. Your wagon and team in good shape?”

“Yeah, not much we need.”

“Good. With all the gold miners around here, anything you need is going to cost something outrageous.”

We saw Pa coming down the street and went over to him with Mr. Jones behind us. “Good to see you Smith, glad you made it.”

“Howdy Mr. Jones, glad the boys found you in all this. We staying here long?”

“Well, it’ll be a few days before we can cross the river. The ferries are always backed up once the grass turns, and that happened about three weeks ago.”

“How many wagons?” asked Pa.

“Bout 50, in our train, some people decided to wait for next year, others backed out. We still got the doctor though, and now that you’re here, we still got a blacksmith. We might get some more wagons when people hear about that. Our camp is south of town, we’re already in line for the crossing. Ask for Jones’s train if I am not there, and get there as soon as you can.” He hurried off back into town while we headed out to our wagon.

“Well, Will this place seems kinda wild to me.” Ma greeted us as we returned, “What did you find?”

“It is pretty wild, Lizzy. Bunch of people rushing off to the gold rush without much planning, some confused seeming settlers, a lot of people hoping to get rich taking advantage of others selling stuff for more than it’s worth, but there are some good folk too. There’s a woman runnin the boardin house, her name is Widow Lawrence and she has been here for seven years, since her husband died in one of the first wagon trains and she turned back. She has a soft spot for women left as widows and will give Mrs. Anderson a job and a place until she figures out what she wants to do.”

Mrs. Anderson and little John had just come around the corner when he said this. She gasped and ran to Pa and hugged him. “Oh thank you sir, you don’t know what a relief it is for me to know I have a place.”

“I also found a man who is willing to give you a fair price for your husband’s carpenter tools. He is one of the blacksmiths here in town and wants to open a cabinet making shop for one of his sons.”

We sat around the fire together one last time. Pa was going to walk Mrs. Anderson and little John into town, while we packed and hitched up the wagon, heading South to find Jones and his wagon train. He packed all of her belongings onto one horse and set little John on his shoulders.

“Elizabeth, I won’t ever forget you and your family takin’ us in like this.” she said to Ma as she hugged her, “Might be I’ll join you all in Oregon some day.”

“You take care of yourself and that boy, Lucinda.” Ma said to her as she hugged her back, “And if you do come out, look for us, you are always welcome under our roof.” I watched for a moment as she walked away next to Pa and little John and the horse and wondered if I would ever see her again.

Soon, we were ready to move out. Jim and I rode horses while John drove with Ma on the seat beside him. Nancy sat in the back with the boys, and the other two horses were tied to the back of the wagon. As we got closer to St. Joseph, the wagons and the camps got thicker. Soon, we were standing still in a line of wagons trying to move, but failing. Some people, being impatient, tried to push their wagons ahead through a rough, overgrown patch, and their wagons tipped over. Others bumped wagons or startled animals as they passed to close together, leading to some fights, especially among miners. As it started to get darker, Ma got more worried. We had hardly moved a mile or so from our old campsite and it didn’t look like we’d move much more.

Just as the sun was setting, Pa came back. “This as far as you got? That’s because you boys gotta get outside of the crowd. Will, Jim, you boys ride on ahead and find our wagon train. John and I will get the wagon moving out beyond this mess.”

As we rode away, I looked back and saw as Pa untied one of the horses and took the reins from John and led the wagon through the camps and lines of wagons towards more open prairie. He kept having to change directions to avoid camps and small herds of cattle, but continued generally West, towards the river.

Jim and I were able to move much faster without the wagon, and found the wagon train in just a half hour, then went back to find Pa and tell him where to go. But even knowing where to go, it was about midnight when we finally got our wagon to Mr Jones’s wagon train.

“This place is crazy” Jim shouted to me over the noise, his voice more excited than afraid. “I wish I’d gone into town with you guys.”

It was 8 days we and the wagon train waited in line, moving no more than a few feet at a time, as we waited for our turn to cross on the ferry. We went into town a few times over those 8 days, but never without Pa. What we found we liked more was going down to the river and watching the other wagon trains cross and watching the steam boats chug up and down the river.

The steam boats were interesting, carrying southerners with slaves, gamblers, and people like we’d never seen before. They would unload at the docks, north of where the wagon trains crossed and we’d strain to see the unusual people get off.

After eight days, though the excitement had worn off and we just wanted our trip to start. Finally it was our turn. We loaded our wagon onto the ferry, crossed the Missouri, and we were on our way. The adventure was here.

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.