19. February 2024 · Comments Off on Another Excerpt from the W-I-P · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West

Another excerpt from the new WIP – title of which is undecided, as of yet. (Suggestions are welcome.). The Kettering family is about to head west to Independence, Missouri, on the first leg of their journey to California. Sally Kettering tells us a bit about the family wagon –

I should say something about our wagon, since it was to be a home for six months at least, as well as our means of traveling. Pa talked with such of his friends who knew of such matters. He exchanged our old light two-horse farm wagon and some other considerations for one which was slightly larger, with a back and front which sloped slightly outwards like the prow of a boat in both directions. It sat high on the ground, on four heavy iron-bound wheels which were as tall as my chin when I had shoes on.

When Pa first brought that new wagon, telling us that it was the wagon that would take us all the way to California, he took Jon and I out to look at it, standing in the farmyard.  He pointed out the wheels, the axles and running gear underneath the great square box of the body.

“Children – I thought this wagon was perfect for the journey – see the wheels, particularly? I thought them superior to every other wagon which I considered. The hubs are fine, well-seasoned elmwood and the spokes of good solid oak. The trail is long and very rough, in places – and the last thing we want is for our wagon to break down.”

Eight beechwood hoops held up the wagon cover, which was sewn of heavy canvas made waterproof with linseed oil – the hoops on back and front flared out slightly. There was a seat on metal springs that sat on the front of the wagon, somewhat more comfortable to rest up on as the wheels bumped and jounced over ruts and stones in the road. The front and back of the wagon cover could be drawn tight, or loose, with an extra flap to cover up the round opening, keep out the dust or the rain.

The wagon itself had tall sides. Together with the hoops holding up the cover made it like a small room with an arched ceiling, nearly tall enough for Pa to stand in. But once the wagon was loaded with all that was said to be needful, there was no room to stand –The one space which was not packed almost to the height of the cover was at the front, just behind the seat. A pair of big flat-topped trunks sat there, topped with some straw pallets and a featherbed – this was where Jon and I would sleep, once we set out.  For themselves, Ma and Pa had a stout canvas wall tent to sleep in at night. We had a small patent tin stove, and a box full of tin plates and silverware, another box of Ma’s kettles, a big frypan on legs and a covered iron Dutch oven. We had a fine maple rocking chair which Ma treasured since it had come with her family from Pennsylvania, and the parts to a cherrywood bedstead, stowed in the wagon. Pa’s precious patent steel-share plow was strapped to the back of the wagon, as he intended to take up farming again, when we reached California.

Most space in the wagon was taken up with supplies. There were but two or three places beyond Independence where one could buy more, but Pa had told us it would be better to bring everything we would need for ourselves to carry us through the journey, enough for six months or longer; so many barrels of flour and cornmeal, sugar, and a firkin of molasses, a box of coffee beans and a tin-lined box of China tea, another of hard tack, some fine smoked hams and sausages of our own smokehouse and another barrel of salt pork. A covered crock of fresh eggs packed in isinglass, a bushel bag of beans and another of rice. Pa said that he would rather we purchase good quality from merchants which we knew and trusted, rather than strangers in Missouri. Of course, Ma had some crocks of pickles, jams, and dried fruit of her own preserving, all packed away in boxes or in crates padded with straw.

We had been all that late winter, packing and procuring those supplies we would need on the journey. We packed our few precious things as well – Pa’s carpenter tools and his fiddle, Ma’s sewing basket and the box of china dishes which had come from England; my brother Jon had his wooden Noah’s ark with the pairs of animals that Pa had whittled and painted in lifelike colors for him, all winter long when Jon was four years old, and I had my doll, Priscilla – with her rag body and china head, hands and feet – although at eleven and nearly twelve, I wondered if I were almost too old to play with dolls, but I couldn’t bear to think of leaving Priscilla behind, any more than Ma could countenance abandoning the maple rocking chair, or her fine English china dishes.

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