Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Josiah's Journal - Manifest Destiny

The following is the journal of Josiah (last name not given).  I found it on a journey of my own, mere months after the events recorded here. 

March 18, 1848 - Independence, Missouri

Living and teaching in Independence wasn't what I wanted to do with my life.  I suppose that's why I want leave.  I've saved up some four hundred dollars - the most I've ever had at once in my life - over the last couple of years, and I let the administration at the school know that I'm leaving.  Soon.

Only lately - since dad's death - had wanderlust and a desire for something better started to get the better of me.  There is little left for my in Independence, excepting my job and my family.  The former is all too easy to give up, the latter easy to bring with me.

My wife Annabell and I went down to the general store today, intending to spend most of the money I had saved up.  We purchased extra clothing, spare wagon parts, cans and cans of food - more than I'd ever seen - and of course about a dozen boxes of bullets.  Most important - and most expensive - were the six oxen we procured from the local ranch.  "Good and strong," he said.  "They'll get you to Oregon no trouble."

I'm ready to leave today, but my friends advise waiting, lest we get caught in a snow storm.  I can see the wisdom in that.  Still, I'm itching to leave.

April 1, 1848 - Independence, Missouri

It's a brisk morning, but I hardly care.  Finally, I'm going to hit the trail, to escape the town that has been my life, my prison, for years.  At 45 I am no spring chicken any more, but I have enough years and enough spirit left in me to tame the wild frontier, to move to a land of forests and mountains and fishing and hunting.  My wife Annabell and my three children - 19 year old Jacob, 17 year old Savanah, and "Baby Xavier," who just turned 10 - are eager to get going, ready for the adventure of their lifetimes.

We set out around noon at a brisk pace, knowing that our provisions were limited and that we'd have to make good time.  Hopefully the early spring weather will be kind to us as we made our way across the plains.  We left in high spirits, Xavier beaming as he ran around our wagon, playing with the oxen while Jacob practiced with the new gun.  Even our brooding daughter couldn't help but smile when the town was out of sight, over the horizon behind us.

April 5, 1848 - One of the oxen ran away.  Jacob and I looking for it frantically, as we really need six to pull the wagon...  Found the ox.  Frustrating, because it went to the Kansas River, which is where we need to go.  We had to pull it all the way back to the wagon, and then go all the way back to the river.  Oh well, minor set back.

April 8, 1848 - Kansas River Crossing

Fortune favors the bold, they say, and so it did for us today.  A ferryman asked us for five dollars (Five!) for safe passage across the river.  I told him no, we only have 30, and we'll need it for food and supplies later.  What's more, that five dollars gets you a spot in the longest line I've ever seen.  We'd have been waiting for days just to cross.  So Jacob and I caulked the wagon, and rode it across instead.  It was a bumpy ride, but the river was fairly calm today, and we made it across just fine.  Just goes to show, people are always after you hard earned money.

April 10, 1848 - We lost the trail on the other side of the river, but we back tracked and found it quickly.  Onward!

April 13, 1848 - Big Blue River Crossing

Another successful journey across a river.  The Big Blue was much narrower and shallower than the Kansas, but it is satisfying nonetheless to have made it across safely.  Still, these river crossings make the kids anxious.  Let's hope we won't see another for a while.

April 17, 1848 - Fort Kearney

Complain, complain, complain.  For three days, all I've heard is complaining.  "Daddy, why can't we have more food to eat?"  "Daddy, why do we have to go so fast?"  "Daddy, when will we get there?"  I've tried to explain - without success - that we need to go so fast and eat so little so that we can get there sooner, and hopefully with some money left over, so we can start a new life.  But no, all the kids care about is today.  Oh, and to top it off, the same damn ox that wandered away is now sick.  We should just shoot it and get a new one.  And I would too, if I had the means.

April 26, 1848 - Chimney Rock

We've made good time over the last nine days, even with a sick ox.  It seems to be doing a little better now that we've stopped to rest for a spell, but I can't say the same about Jacob.  He's worked so hard, and I think he's been passing off parts of his rations to Xavier the whole trip, and now he's starting to look a little ill.  I saw it coming on a few days ago, but didn't say anything.  Now that we've arrived at Chimney Rock, however, I went out and found another traveler who used to run a clinic in Illinois, and he says it's almost certainly dysentery.  I guess we can only hope and pray, and push forward to a place where he can be treated.

May 2, 1848 - That sonofabitch ox died!  And Jacob is still sick, too.  I won't describe the symptoms.  Suffice to say, they aren't pleasant.  At least we're close to Fort Laramie.  I hope.

May 5, 1848 - Fort Laramie

The last three days have been the most trying of our journey so far.  Our progress was unbelievably slow thanks to the dead ox, Jacob was coughing continuously, and Savanah's incessant complaining became incessant crying, instead.  Hardly an improvement.  Now, though, we've made it to a fort, where we can resupply and buy a new ox.  Hallelujah.

Just got back from the store...  A single ox costs $30 out here!  That's all of my remaining money!  I don't really have a choice, but I fear only ill can come of our newfound lack of funds.

May 7, 1848 - We found about 20 pounds of fruit today, which helps our dwindling food stores.  But now Baby Xavier is looking absolutely horrible.  Hopefully the fruit and resting at the back of the wagon will help him regain strength.

May 9, 1848 - Killed a buffalo today.  Too much food to carry.  Stores much better now.

May 16, 1848 - Xavier is looking much better.  I think all the buffalo meat we've been eating is cheering him up.  Complaining is also improving with larger rations.  I figure an occasional buffalo hunt now and then will give us plenty of food to make it to Oregon.

May 21, 1848 - We passed Independence Rock a few days ago, and refilled our water stores while we were there.  Now, though, I'm starting to think there's something wrong with the water we got.  It doesn't taste right, and I'm afraid someone might get sick.  Problem is, it's the only water we have.

May 23, 1848 - Things are going from bad to worse.  There's practically no grass on the ground here, and the oxen are making it known that they are hungry.  What's more, we haven't seen rain, a stream, or another source of water for days, and just this morning Xavier poured out the rest of the water because it tastes so bad.  Maybe one of those Indians can teach us a rain dance.

May 24, 1848 - South Pass

Ask and ye shall receive!  Not only did it rain this morning, but we made it to South Pass, where the river is clear and glistening.  Now we have a decision to make, albeit an easy one.  We can take the shortcut through to Green River, or head out-of-the-way to the nearest fort.  The kids all want to go to the fort, but seeing as we don't have any money, I figure we should just charge on.  Hopefully we can get to Oregon with enough of our supplies left that we can sell them off there.

May 26, 1848 - I'm not a religious man, but I am praying today.  My wife, my love, my life...  Annabell has cholera.  That damn tainted water must have something to do with it.  God, why?  We're halfway to Oregon, halfway from Independence, and I wish we could turn back.  But now it would take just as long to return as it would to make it.  In the meantime, I'll be hoping and praying for Annabell's health.  God have mercy on us.

May 31, 1848 - We went for a hunt today, and didn't see a single buffalo.  I guess they don't live this far north.  We still shot plenty of deer and elk.  The bad news, however, is that Baby Xavier came with Jacob and I, and while we were hunting proceded to climb and fall out of a tree, breaking his leg.  Foolish boy.  His injury will make things that much harder on the rest of us.

June 1, 1848 - Green River

Oh God!  Oh Jesus!  My wife, my daughter, my son... All dead!  Such hubris, such damned arrogance.

I knew running out of money would be the end of us.  The ferryman wanted five dollars, again, to cross Green River.  This time I would have paid, had I the means.  The river is large, deep, and treacherous.  Jacob assured me that we could do it, that we could make it across.  And I believed him, because I knew we didn't have any other choice.  But when the wagon started to shake the Xavier and Savanah panicked, and before we knew it the wagon had capsized.  Annabell, my sweet, loving wife...  Annabell was too weak to escape the wagon, her Cholera too advanced.  Xavier's broken leg rendered him helpless as well.  And Savanah has never learned to swim.

Jacob and I have agreed to rest for a few days before moving on, but we have already agreed that we must.  There may be nothing left for me in this world, but he is still a young man, and if I can help him to make it to Oregon, I can at least be content with that small victory in the face of the overwhelming loss of my wife and my younger children.

June 5, 1848 - As if it wasn't enough, Jacob has contracted typhoid, leaving me to run the wagon alone.  He is a strong young man, and I believe he'll pull through.  He has to pull through.  But our progress will be slowed.  I just...  I don't know what to do.  Oh, if only Annabell were here.

June 7, 1848 - Jacob died early this afternoon.  I am now alone, in the middle of the wild plains.  My family is dead, I am over a thousand miles from my home, and I have no will to go on.  Yet, what else can I do, but go on?  I am exhausted.  Indeed, it might be more accurate to say that I have exhaustion.  But it is either go onward, or die, and I am not ready to choose death yet.

June 11, 1848 - Soda Springs

I met an Indian man today who was willing to trade one of Savanah's sets of clothes for fifteen dollars.  Oh, how I could have used such a deal a fortnight ago! I am resting here for a day before going forward.  Hopefully my body will be rejuvinated by the rest.  As for my spirit, my soul... That is broken, and will never be repaired.

June 13, 1848 (Last Entry) - Am so tired, so lost, so desparate.  I cannot stand the loneliness of the hills at night, and the oxen provide such meager company.  Sometimes, I just want it all to end.  There is comfort, at least, in the knowledge that, though my family could not make it to the western frontier, at least we might be reunited in Elysium.  Oh sweet Annabell, I'm coming!

No comments:

Post a Comment