Bethany House Publishers
Dianne anxiously waited with her siblings around the family dining table as their mother considered their request. With their father gone nearly a month and store responsibilities mounting, Dianne had pursued the one idea that seemed to make sense.
“Move to the Idaho Territory?” Susannah questioned.
Dianne spoke with confidence. “I’ve been in touch with a wagon master who will lead a train west in about ten days. They’ll head out from St. Louis, so we need to act quickly.”
“But to just up and sell off everything and leave?” her mother asked, looking at each of her children.
“We can’t leave New Madrid,” Dianne’s oldest brother, Trenton, spoke. “I don’t mean to leave here until I’ve avenged Pa’s death.”
“Don’t talk that way, Trenton. There will be no revenge,” their mother declared, tears coming to her eyes. “I’ve already lost Ephraim; I’m not about to lose you too.”
“That’s why moving to your brother’s place is so important, Mother. It will get the boys away from the war. You know how Captain Seager is constantly badgering them to join the Union as soon as they’re of age. Before you know it, they won’t have any choice but to choose sides.”
“I wouldn’t fight for the Union,” Trenton declared. “I think they had more to do with Pa’s death than they’re letting on.”
“But you can’t be sure,” his mother interjected. “No one is certain whose bullet took your father’s life. I don’t like the Union any more than you do, but I can’t hold them wholly responsible for Ephraim’s death.”
Dianne’s twin brothers, Morgan and Zane, exchanged a glance before commenting in unison, “We think the move would be good.”
Betsy and Ardith, the youngest of the Chadwicks, began whispering back and forth as if trying to understand the full implication of the adult conversation.
Trenton scowled at the boys who were a year his junior. “It isn’t right that a man’s life was taken like that without anyone paying for it. Pa deserves better than that.”
“They’re calling it an accident of wartime,” Dianne threw out. She knew if Trenton would listen to anyone, it would be her. “Trent, we can’t bring Pa back—even if we put a bullet in every Union soldier in town. Or Southern sympathizers, for that matter. Nothing is going to bring him back.”
“Maybe not, but at least we’ll have done right by him.”
“Stop it!” All gazes turned to their mother. Even Betsy and Ardith were silent. “There will be no more talk of revenge.” A cloak of silence clung heavily to the air before she pushed her shoulders back and focused on her sons. “I think Dianne’s idea to move west is a good one.”
Dianne breathed a sigh of relief. Surely now things would progress forward. “We need to leave in less than a week,” Dianne said, centering on her mother’s careworn face. “We should sell the store. Pa had a couple of men interested in buying it at different times. We can get Mr. Danssen at the bank to check them out and see if they’re still interested.”
“I suppose that would be wise,” their mother replied. “I certainly wouldn’t want to trust someone else to run it after we left.”
Dianne nodded. “Morgan and Zane and I have been talking. We’ll take as much as we can in inventory to sell on the way at the forts, and when we arrive in Virginia City, we can sell anything left over. That should give us plenty of money to live on.”
“Is Virginia City where Uncle Bram lives?” Ardith asked.
Their mother nodded. “Yes. Uncle Bram lives nearby.”
“I’ve sent him a letter to let him know we’re coming,” Dianne said, surprising them all with her boldness. “I knew I would have to act quickly or we’d beat the letter there.” She reached out and patted her mother’s arm. “Look, there’s been a lot of gold found in that area so a great many people are making their way to the territory. It should be an easy road, with good folk for company.” She paused and looked at her siblings. “I’ve heard tell a good many Confederate folk are heading to that area.”
“You just don’t understand, do you, Dianne? Or maybe you just don’t care. Moving away still doesn’t change the fact that Pa was wrongly killed,” Trenton declared.
“Do you think that fact has somehow escaped any of us, Trenton?” Dianne’s irritation heightened with her brother’s accusing tone.
Trenton’s expression softened and he lowered his face. “No. I just can’t bear to leave it undone.”
“And I can’t bear to see you hanged for murder. Or forced to fight for the Union.” Dianne’s words were blunt, but she knew it was necessary in order to completely win her mother to the idea. “Morgan and Zane are only two years from being old enough to be drawn into it as well. Would you have their blood on your hands, just because of foolish pride?”
“Enough,” Susannah said, shaking her head. “I cannot bear any more deaths. I hardly know how to face the days as it is.”
“You know I agree with going west,” Morgan put in, “but how will we know what to do? We’ve been running the store and living in the city all our lives. How are we going to know how to live off the land and do what’s necessary to survive on the trail?”
Dianne had wondered this as well. After asking around, she felt she had procured the answer. She produced a small book from her pocket and placed it on the table.
“This is the book that will teach us. The Prairie Traveler. This man tells how to do everything. He tells how to pack, how to handle the animals, what weapons and supplies to bring, and what to expect on the trail. I think we can follow his instructions and learn what we need to know. Listen to this.” She opened the book to read randomly.
“‘On emergencies, an ox can be made to proceed at a tolerable quick pace; for, though his walk is only about three miles an hour at an average, he may be made to perform double that distance in the same time.’” She paused and turned a few pages. “It says this about packing: ‘Camp-kettles, tin vessels, and other articles that will rattle and be likely to frighten animals, should be firmly lashed to the packs.’ Further down the page it says, ‘One hundred and twenty-five pounds is a sufficient load for a mule upon a long journey.’” She smiled and closed the book. “There is all matter of information here. Details about packing and cooking, treating problems on the trail, fixing broken wheels—it’s all right here. We need only study this to know better how to prepare and how to handle the situation once we’re actually on the trail.”
“I could go out and spend a day with Otis Wilby. He could show Morgan and me how to handle the wagon and how to care for the animals,” Zane threw in.
“Yeah, he could probably teach us how to do just about everything we need to know,” Morgan agreed.
Dianne nodded. “That would be good. You boys do that. I’ll help Mama arrange things at the bank and then figure what inventory we’ll take. Trent, why don’t you go with them?”
“I’m not going!” Trent said, jumping up and overturning his chair. His blond hair fell across his face, causing him to frown and push it back in place. The action made him seem less sure—almost confused. “I’m nineteen years old—old enough to make my own decisions. I’m staying here until I make things right.”
“You’ll never make things right, Trent,” Dianne said softly. She reached out to gently touch her brother. “Pa will still be dead. If anyone’s to blame for that, it’s me—not the soldiers. Pa needed money and I went to the bank for him. It’s my fault.”
Trent shook his head. “That’s not true. You should be able to walk the streets without being attacked. You weren’t to blame.”
“She shouldn’t have been out,” her mother said, eyeing them both with a look of resentment. It was the first time Dianne felt, as well as heard, her mother’s opinion of the matter. “But I cannot hold you responsible—not in full.” Dianne felt the weight of responsibility settle on her shoulders as her mother continued. “I need you to be the man of the family now, Trenton. I need you to stop thinking of what you want and see us safely through to the Idaho Territory.”
Trent shook his head. Dianne saw the sorrow in his expression. “I’m not going. You can’t make me. I think you’re ten kinds of fool to try to make this trip, but I’m sure Morgan and Zane will be men enough to get the job done.”
Dianne watched her mother’s face contort as she barely held back her tears. “You do this, Trenton Chadwick, and you’re no son of mine.”
Dianne gasped and put her hand to her mouth. Trenton seemed surprised by his mother’s statement but refused to back down. “I have to do this, Ma. If you don’t understand that, then you must not have loved Pa as much as you say you did.”
Trent stormed out, not giving anyone time to reply.
Their mother stared at the door for several moments. No one dared to breathe or speak a word. Betsy pulled on one of her braids and began rubbing the hair between her thumb and first finger as she often did when upset. Ardith simply looked at the floor, while Morgan and Zane kept their gaze on the table. Only Dianne turned to their mother. And in that moment Dianne knew her mother truly blamed her for everything. The look on her face made it clear. Dianne sank back in her chair.
But then just as quickly as the look appeared, her mother’s face relaxed and assumed an expression of resignation. “What do we need to do, Dianne?”
Dianne hesitated. “Well ... I-I’ve made a list. I figure we should take at least three wagons. Each wagon will have four oxen each. We should also take several milk cows and some chickens and horses.”
“With the war on, how will we be able to get those things?” Zane asked.
“Pa made friends with the Yankees. If you have enough money, you can buy whatever you need. I figure with the sale of the store, we should be able to get whatever we want.”
“But who’d buy the store now? Especially with the Union holding the town? Those fellows who were interested before surely aren’t going to want it now,” Morgan stated.
“We’ll just hope for the best. If not those fellows, then maybe one of the Yankee soldiers or their relation. Many of the men seem to like it here; even Captain Seager talks of settling here after the war.”
Morgan and Zane seemed satisfied by this answer. “Ma, while the boys can go talk to Otis, I have some worries about how we’ll learn what we need to know,” Dianne began. “We don’t know much about cooking on the trail and washing and such. The book talks about some of it”—her mother picked up the book and thumbed through as Dianne continued—“but I doubt we can learn everything there.”
“Right here it talks about how to dry fruits and vegetables,” her mother said matter-of-factly. “You press the juice out and dry them in the oven until they’re rock hard. They pack tight then and won’t spoil. When you go to use them again, you boil them in water and they are supposed to be as good as fresh.”
Dianne thought it sounded reasonable. “But what about making campfires and cooking out in the open?”
“Dutch ovens are supposed to be great for cooking outdoors. We sell them here in the store,” her mother replied. “Surely we can learn how to use one.”
“Can I learn too?” Ardith asked.
Susannah smiled as if the tensions of the earlier moments were all but forgotten. “Absolutely. Everyone needs to learn.” Her enthusiasm picked up, almost as if the idea to go west were hers. “Everyone will have to help. You younger girls will have to collect firewood as we go along the trail or we won’t have a cook fire at night. It won’t be easy, but we’ll make it work.”
Dianne heard the determination in her mother’s voice. The decision was made, and there would be no turning back now.
“Can we have a dog?” Betsy, the animal lover of the family, questioned.
Susannah grew thoughtful. “A dog would probably be good once we get to Virginia City but less helpful on the trail. On the trail he might get bitten by a snake or killed by Indians.”
Betsy’s eyes grew wide. “Indians? For sure, Mama?”
Susannah nodded. “I’ve long heard your father and my brother talk about troubles in the West. That’s something else we should consider.”
Dianne nodded. “We all need to learn how to handle the guns. The boys have a pretty good knowledge of them, but the time may come when we ladies will have to use them as well.”
“Pa didn’t want his womenfolk handling firearms,” Morgan said without thinking.
“Well, your pa isn’t here to defend us,” their mother replied. She frowned. “I think he’d understand.”
“Ma, I’m glad about going west,” Zane announced. “I’ve wanted to go west for the longest time. I read a book on Lewis and Clark going through that territory where Uncle Bram lives, and I’ve always wanted to see the headwaters of the Missouri.”
Morgan nodded at his mother. “I’m glad too. You know I like to explore. I’ve always wanted to go west, just like Zane. We’ll have a good trip—you can count on us.”
“I’m happy too,” Dianne said, smiling. “It sounds like a great adventure, and I know Uncle Bram will be happy to see you. He wouldn’t want you living here without Pa—especially not with the war going on.”
“Whether he’ll be happy or not remains to be seen,” their mother replied. “This will be a difficult journey. We’ll have to help one another and learn as we go. No doubt some of the other women can teach us some of what we need to know. Other than that, we’ll have to depend on our own ingenuity.”
Dianne nodded, realizing that the trip would probably be hardest on her younger sisters. “I’ll help the girls as much as I can.”
“We’re big enough to help ourselves,” Ardith, the most headstrong of the Chadwick children, announced.
Dianne grinned. “Of course you are. I just meant that I’d give you an extra hand. I know you’re strong and smart.”
“What about school?” Ardith asked. “Come Monday, I was supposed to complete my report on George Washington.”
“School’s done for the year as far as I’m concerned,” Dianne’s mother said with a resigned sigh. “Are you sure this is the best time to go, Dianne—boys?”
“If we don’t go now, we’ll never get there by winter. The mountain passes fill up with snow early on. Like I said, I’ve been studying up on this,” Dianne replied.
Their mother nodded and smiled at Ardith and Betsy. “You’ll get by. I’ll help you with lessons until fall. Maybe by then we’ll be in Virginia City and there will be a school nearby.”
“That’s when we can get a dog,” Betsy announced, dropping her hold on the pigtail. “I want to call him Shep.”
Susannah picked up The Prairie Traveler and got to her feet. “That’s fine, Betsy. We’ll call him Shep. Now I’ve got some reading to do.”
With her mother’s clear indication that the discussion was over, Dianne and her siblings got up to tend to their various chores. Dianne still needed to dust their rooms upstairs as well as the store shelves, although she wasn’t sure it was necessary if they were leaving next week. Living over the store made the Emporium a natural extension of their living quarters. It also doubled the workload—not that Dianne really minded. She enjoyed working with the customers, though she absolutely hated bookwork. Her father had always kept the ledgers so it wasn’t any real concern to her, but now she was finding herself caught up with the unfamiliar task. She’d asked Morgan and then Zane for help, but neither one was interested. Trenton could have helped her, but he hated the store and refused to stay around any longer than he absolutely had to, preferring instead to be sent on delivery missions for his father.
“Do you think there will be other children on the trip west?” Ardith asked Dianne. Morgan and Zane slipped from the room while Betsy picked up the broom and began her job of sweeping.
“I’m sure there will be lots of children on the trip. Why do you ask?”
Ardith shrugged. “I just don’t want to go to a place that doesn’t have other children. I want to make friends, you know.”
Dianne thought of her own beloved friends. Especially Ramona and Sally. How would it be to go so far away and not have them to talk to? What would it truly be like to live on the open prairie? Where would they sleep and tend to private matters? Where would they go to church?
A rush of other questions filled her head. Maybe she’d made a mistake in pushing for this change. How would they survive the trip? How would they manage it all? She picked up the duster and began to work.
I really don’t know how to do much of anything for myself. How can I hope to help keep my family alive and well on such an arduous journey?