It’s a humid morning in Jacksonville. You and your family have always been early risers, being farmers, but today you wake up before everyone else.
You didn’t sleep a wink; you’re too excited and nervous! Today you head West, where there’s farmland, opportunity, and the chance to start a new life. It’s getting really crowded in Jacksonville, and your family is struggling to keep its farm business successful with all the competition. Plus, the hot and sticky weather in Florida is wearing on you. Maybe there won’t be as many bugs in Oregon Territory.
Your parents already sold your farm and homestead to pay for the long trek, so you’re staying at an inn on the edge of town. After a hearty breakfast, your family piles into your farm wagon to start for Atlanta. You plan to buy a covered wagon, or prairie schooner, in Saint Louis. You’ve got your livestock in tow. Betty and Billy are your favorites—they’re goats that don’t get along with each other, but they are friendly to you.
Your older sister, Emma, hops into the farm wagon next to Ma and baby Jaime. A goat snaps at her dress.
“Ugh!” Emma tugs at her skirt. “I don’t understand why we had to sell my favorite mirror and keep that thing!”
You grin. You and Emma fight even worse than the goats. She’s just turned seventeen and cares only about reading and fancy dresses.
“Children, please behave.” Ma holds Jaime in her arms.
Pa hitches the horses and climbs up into the front seat. “To Atlanta!” He slaps the reins. Your sheepdog, Dash, barks at the sharp sound and races around your small flock of sheep.
You cross into Georgia a few days later, make your way through several small towns, and ferry across the winding Ocmulgee River. Pa pulls in the reins, and you rest for a while in the town of Macon. There’s less swampland than in Florida, the trees are taller, and it’s chilly at night.
How cold will it get on the Oregon Trail?
You reach the sprawling southern city of Atlanta about a week after leaving Jacksonville. You’re traveling at a much slower pace than you expected. You need to reach Independence, Missouri, in early May—but you’re already off to a late start.
In Atlanta, you restock on food at Matt’s General Store. There’s another family buying goods; they recommend a lot of blankets and coats.
“Word has it, this year’s gonna be a chiller!” A man with a handlebar mustache leans against the counter.
The trip West is expensive; you’ve got to save money for the covered wagon and oxen. You hold off buying more blankets, at least for now.
As you leave the bustling city, cotton fluff floats through the air. The cold wind picks up. You shudder in your light jacket.
You turn to Emma. “It’s hard to imagine not being hot and sweaty all the time.”
Emma sighs. “That’s just because you’re always running around in the swamplands.”
You wish Emma weren’t such a stick-in-the-mud. Right then you notice an odd-looking tree—as if it has a large grin—smiling at you. A good omen for the journey ahead, you think.
As the day drags on, clouds blanket the sky. Your wagon winds through a thick wood. Hours later, you open your eyes to look at the landscape. You see the smiling tree again.
“Pa?” You sit up straight. “I’ve seen that craggy oak before.”
Pa sighs and stops the wagon. “Yep—me too.”
“So what are you saying?” Ma cradles Jaime.
Pa looks around. “I’m saying we’re very, very lost.”
Emma looks up from reading Pride and Prejudice and rolls her eyes.
After wandering around for another few hours, you set up camp for the night. A small stream trickles nearby. The wind howls through the trees. You shiver and wrap another blanket around you. You didn’t think it could get this cold in the South.
You can’t wait to join a wagon train once you’re in Independence. It’s dark and lonely in the woods—you hope you’re not lost forever. With no one else around, you feel especially vulnerable. You start to worry. You’ve heard stories from townspeople about bandits robbing families.
Then you see a faint campfire through the brush. Someone else camped nearby.
“Look, Pa.” You point to the glow. “Maybe we should ask them for directions.”
Pa turns his head. “Maybe we should. But we don’t know who it is. We need to be careful. Bandits all ’round these parts.”
You and Pa move cautiously through brambles to seek out the campfire. Dash follows. The trees part to reveal a small campsite. A family sits around a roaring campfire. You see three adults and three children.
Pa approaches cautiously. “Hello, there.”
A man wearing a colorful shirt decorated with woven ribbons rises to his feet. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“Terribly sorry to disturb you.” Pa takes off his hat and wipes his brow. “But you wouldn’t happen to know where we are, would you?”
The family exchanges glances.
“You’re lost?” The fire glows against the young boy’s face.
“Hush, Wahya.” The man puts his finger to his lips. “You are about twenty-five miles outside of Atlanta. Where are you trying to go?”
“Nashville, and then Saint Louis. We’re going on the Oregon Trail.”
“So are we!” Wahya stands up.
His older brother nudges him to be quiet.
The man in the vibrant shirt has a warm smile and motions for you and Pa to sit down at their campfire. You introduce yourselves.
“My name is Tsayoga,” says the man in the colorful shirt, “and this is my family. My wife, Tsula; her father, Oukonunaka; my daughter, Inola; and my sons, Atsadi and Wahya. We are journeying West too, avoiding as many crowded main roads as possible.”
Pa nods. &ldq...