“Rise and shine!”
You roll over and groan. It’s just before dawn at Gardner Junction, where the Oregon Trail and Santa Fe Trail split off. Pa and Ma have already risen with the other wagon-train families. They are feeding the oxen and preparing a hot breakfast over the campfire.
It’s been nearly fifty miles since you, Pa, Ma, and your two Newfoundland dogs, George Washington and King George III, left Independence, Missouri. It was the last major settlement before starting on the Oregon Trail. Pa is a doctor who has received an invitation to help start a practice out in Oregon City. Doctors are desperately needed in the West, and your family couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Not only is he the doctor caring for your entire wagon train, but he’s also the leader. There are six wagons in total—one man, Mr. Mason, is a banker with two wagons. Your family owns one, and the other three wagons belong to the Whittakers, the O’Neils, and the Joneses. As the wagon-train leaders, your family is responsible for making sure everyone gets to Oregon City safely.
So far you’ve crossed over pleasant open prairie and gentle hills, but the Trail will only get more difficult from here. The stopping points and trading posts are few and far between, so you must ration your food and plan your travel route carefully. The land will become rockier and more treacherous, and sudden storms could wipe out your entire wagon train in an instant. Accidents are common on the Trail, as well as sickness and even death.
You’ve already been walking nearly eighteen miles a day since leaving Independence, but you’d like nothing more than to roll back over and sleep just a few more minutes.
“Hurry up before breakfast has come and gone!” Pa flips the bacon. “Up and at ’em. Slugabed didn’t even hear the morning bugle!”
You hear the sizzle of bacon. The delicious smell wafts into your tent.
One of your dogs starts whining. Pa laughs. “All right, you scoundrel, you’ll get your food in a minute.”
You can’t let your dogs get to the food before you! You quickly dress, put away your bedroll, and clamber out of your tent. The grass is soft and green beneath your feet, and bunches of sunny yellow wildflowers sway in the cool April breeze. You know it isn’t always going to be this pleasant on the Trail, but right now, all you care about is bacon.
King George III and George Washington bound up to you, covering you with slobbering licks. You laugh and push them away.
“I’m awake, I’m awake!” You take a seat next to Pa and help him pour cups of coffee for everyone.
Ma enters your small camp, pulling your dairy cow behind her. “Don’t let those dogs near that food! There’s plenty of rabbits about.”
“Did Trixie wander off again?” You take a bite of bacon. “That blasted cow!”
Ma nods, tying Trixie carefully to the back of the wagon. “We need to make sure she’s always tied up during the night. I don’t know how she got free. Don’t we have dogs to herd her back in?” She shoots a dry look to both the Georges. They just wag their tails. “Hmph! No tasty bacon for you lazy hounds.”
King George plops to the ground with a huff.
You slip the massive, shaggy dogs each half a bacon strip anyway. Their tails wag gratefully.
“Your ma’s right, though.” Pa wipes morning dew from his spectacles. “Food will get precious up ahead on the Trail. We have to make sure we conserve our supplies and plan out exactly what we should ration.”
You have just over six hundred pounds of food on the wagon—two hundred for each person—and you’ll need to restock at trading posts and hunt where you can.
As you sink your teeth into a warm hunk of bread, you grimace at the thought of going months without a big slice of Ma’s famous apple pie. Your mouth waters at the thought of dessert. You didn’t realize how many things you’d miss until these past few days, but you know that adventure and opportunity lie ahead in Oregon City!
As the sun rises over the flat horizon, you help Pa and Ma clean up from breakfast and prepare for the day’s long travel ahead. As the only child, it’s your responsibility to help feed and care for the animals, cook, and clean. You also keep a journal of your time on the Trail. You finish your entry from yesterday, which unfortunately isn’t that exciting.
Mrs. Whittaker approaches your campsite. “Dr. Howard, Mrs. Howard, good morning.” Her husband, Mr. Whittaker, is a skilled carpenter and is expected to be instrumental in fixing broken axles and repairing damaged wheels on the Trail. They have three children: Annie and Matthew, who are about your age, and a baby named William. Annie and Matthew have daily chores like you, but they also have a horse and some livestock. They get to take turns riding on horseback to herd loose livestock, including your own cow, Trixie, who always wanders off. You wish you had a horse, too. After only a few days of walking, your legs already ache.
“Good morning, Mrs. Whittaker.” Ma grabs the coffee kettle. “Care for some?”
Mrs. Whittaker shakes her head. “No, thank you. I’m sorry to disturb you, but I know we need to start moving soon, and . . . I wonder if you’ve heard the rumors going around?”
Pa frowns and glances at Ma. “What rumors?” Ma shakes her head.
“There’s a bad bout of cholera up ahead on the Trail.” Mrs. Whittaker points. “A few families want to try for the Santa Fe Trail instead.”
Pa adjusts his spectacles. “That sounds a bit hasty. We should ask someone who knows the Oregon Trail better than we do. I’m sure we can find a guide among the other wagon trains here before they leave.”
Mrs. Whittaker puts her hands on her hips. “Do you really want to risk it?”
Pa and Ma look at each other, then turn to you.
“You’re old enough to help make this kind of decision. What do you think we should do?”
If you want ask a local Oregon Trail guide about potential sickness ahead, turn to page 31
If you want split up and go on the Santa Fe Trail, turn to page 69