It’s just after dawn, and you’re asleep in the Frontier Inn in Independence, Missouri. You’re dreaming when a noise jolts you awake.
SLAM! Clang! Clang!
You leap up and hurry to the window. What could be so loud this early in the morning?
You smile when you see that an ox has just knocked over a blacksmith’s cart. Tools and horseshoes are spilled all over the dirt road. The blacksmith grumbles as he tosses horseshoes back into the cart.
Clang! Clang! Clang!
Now you’re fully awake, so you stay by the window to watch the town come to life. You’re amazed by all the activity you see. Carpenters are sawing wood. Shopkeepers are arranging barrels. And there as so many animals! Horses, cows, and huge oxen are all over.
You also see covered wagons, more than you’ve ever seen in your life. The wagons belong to the hundreds of families staying in town.
You’re here with your family, your dog, your farm wagon, and your oxen. All of you, like the other families, are getting ready to start a five- to six-month journey to Oregon Territory. That’s two thousand miles away on the other side of the continent! You’ll have to walk alongside your wagon for nine hours a day, through prairies, deserts, and mountains. You gulp at the thought.
You turn and look back inside the room, at your family. Your brother and sister are still asleep, but Ma and Pa are already up and working. Ma is sewing a bonnet for your little sister Hannah, and Pa is making a slingshot for your younger brother, Samuel.
“Kentucky already feels very far away, doesn’t it?” Ma says. You nod.
So far, the trip from your home in Kentucky has been pretty easy. You traveled from one town to the next, with comfortable breaks along the way. Soon, though, you’ll be setting off on the Oregon Trail, where there won’t be any big towns like Independence. You’ll stay in tents instead of inns, and sometimes you’ll sleep under the stars. It’ll just be wide-open prairie for miles and miles, until you reach Chimney Rock. After that, you’ll have to get over the mountains.
Pa comes to the window and puts his arm around you. His hands are rough from working as a carpenter.
“I’ve always wanted a farm of our own,” he says. “Now is our chance.”
“The land’s free to families who head out West to claim it,” Ma adds.
“Yes,” Pa says, with a smile. “Just think of all the space we’ll have.”
You think of the cramped house you all shared in Kentucky. More space means plenty of room for all of you. And for your dog, Archie, to run around!
“Come here, boy,” you call to Archie, then scratch him around the ears. He barks, waking up Samuel and Hannah.
Everyone washes up, and you head over to Jake’s Tavern. The road is crowded with people and animals. Hannah holds on tight to your hand as you cross the street. You have to hop over oxen poop, and swerve to avoid a horse-drawn cart.
When you walk into the dining room at Jake’s Tavern, you’re met by a strong scent of bacon, coffee, and fried eggs. The room is packed, and you squeeze around chairs to an empty wooden table in the back.
A group of men at the next table have a map spread out in front of them. They’re pointing at landmarks with names like Devil’s Gate and the Platte River.
You overhear stories about the terrible fates of unlucky pioneers that make you shiver. Luckily, Samuel and Hannah aren’t listening. They’re too busy slathering butter and syrup on their flapjacks.
Pa begins talking to the men with the map. They discuss whether to start down the Trail at the beginning of April next week, or to wait a little longer.
“If we leave now, we get a head start,” one man says. “We’ll get the best pick of land.”
“But there isn’t much grass for the oxen to graze on yet,” another says. “We’d have to carry feed for them. It’s better to wait a month.”
“Waiting means more crowds on the Trail,” the first man argues. “And if we’re delayed, we might hit snow at the mountains after Chimney Rock.”
Pa leans over and says to you, “There’s a lot to consider. What do you think we should do?”
Your heart starts racing. This is a big decision, and you don’t want to say the wrong thing.
“Go on,” Pa says. “You’re getting older now. Your opinion counts.”
Pa really cares what you think. You feel honored.
You carefully consider the reasons for leaving next week or for waiting another month.
If you say you should leave in April, turn to page 49
If you say you should leave in May, turn to page 62