The character in To Truckee’s Trail who goes by the name “Dog” is actually a real dog – she belongs to my daughter. She is actually a boxer-who-knows-what mix, not a mastiff as I described her (although she could very well have a portion of mastiff in the mix.) She does have a white splotch on her nose and at the end of her tail… and she is very loyal, but not quite as obedient and bright as “Dog”. Still – if I am writing a story, I get to make it my way, right?

22. January 2012 · Comments Off on A Literary Interview · Categories: Old West · Tags: , , ,

Some time ago for one of the author’s groups that I participated in, we each did a series of interviews with our own characters – in charater, of course. I picked out two of the secondary characters from To Truckee’s Trail, with the following results. I had quite forgotten about this post, until I was shuffling through some archives … and it is just as amusing now as it was then.

Elisha Stephens (ES) and Isaac Hitchcock  (IH) from To Truckee’s Trail

Celia H.: So, gentlemen –  thank you for taking a little time from your duties as wagon master and –  er – assistant trail guide to answer questions from The Independent Authors’ Guild about your experiences in taking a wagon train all the way to California.

ES: (inaudible mumble)

IH: (chuckling richly) Oh, missy, that ain’t no trouble at all, seein’ as I ain’t really no guide, no-how. I’m just along for the ride, with my fuss-budget daughter Izzy an’ her passel o’ young ones. Heading to Californy, they were, after m’ son-in-law. He been gone two year, now. Went to get hisself a homestead there, sent a letter sayin’ they were to come after. Me, I think he went to get some peace an’ quiet. Izzy, she’s the nagging sort!

Celia H: Yes, Mr. Hitchcock –  but if I may ask you both – why California? There was no trail to follow once past Ft. Hall in 1844. Neither of you, or your chief guide, Mr. Greenwood had even traveled that overland trail, before Why not Oregon, like all the other travelers that year?

ES: Nicer weather.

IH: Waaalll, as I said, Samuel Patterson, Izzy’s man, he was already there, had hisself a nice little rancho, an’ o’ course Izzy wouldn’t hear no different about taking a wagon and the passel o’ young-uns and going to join him. (Winking broadly)  And it ain’t exackly true that I never had been there, no sirreebob. I been there years before, came over with some fur-trapping friends o’ mine. But it was unofficial-like. We wasn’t supposed to be there, but the alcalde and the governor an them, they all looked the other way, like. Beautiful country it were then –  golden mustard on all them hills, and the hills and valleys so green and rich with critters –  you’d believe they walk up and almost beg to be made your dinner! (chuckles and slaps his knee) Missy, the stories I could tell you, folk wouldn’t believe!

ES: (inaudible mumble)

Celia H.: Captain Stephens, I didn’t quite hear that; did you have something to add?

ES: (slightly louder) Most don’t. Believe him.

Celia H.: And why would that be, Mr. Stephens?

ES:  Tells too many yarns. Exaggerates something turrible.

Celia H.: But surely Mr. Hitchcock’s experience was of value …

ES: Some entertaining, I’ll give him that.

Celia H: Would you care to explain?

ES: No.

IH: (Still chuckling) The Capn’ is a man of few words, missy, an’ them he values as if each one were worth six bits. The miracle is he was ever elected captain, back at the start in Council Bluffs.

ES: Doc Townsend’s idea.

IH: And the Doc’s doing, missy! Everyone thought he’d be the captain of the party, for sure, but he let out that he had enough to do with doctorin’, and didn’t want no truck with organizing the train and leading all us fine folk out into the wilderness.

ES: Sensible man.

Celia H.: I take that you are referring to your party co-leader, Doctor Townsend. Why do you say that, Captain Stephens?

ES: Knows his limits.

IH: Ah, but the Doctor, he’s a proper caution! He’s an eddicated man, no doubt. Took a whole box of books, all the way over the mountains. I tell you, missy –  everyone looked to the Doctor. Everyone’s good friend, trust in a pinch and in a hard place without a second thought. Did have a temper, though –  member, ‘Lisha, with old Derby and his campfire out on the plains, when you gave order for no fires to be lit after dark, for fear of the Sioux? Old Man Derby, he just kept lighting that fire, daring you an’ the Doc to put it out. Onliest time I saw the Doc near to losing his temper!

Celia H.: (waiting a moment and looking toward ES) Do you want to elaborate on that, Captain Stephens?

ES: No.

Celia H.: Very well then – if you each could tell me, in your opinion, what was the absolute, very worst part of the journey and the greatest challenge. Mr. Hitchcock?

IH: Oh, that would be the desert, missy. They call it the Forty-Mile Desert, but truth to tell, I think it’s something longer than that. All the way from the last water at the Sink –  Me, I’d place it at sixty miles an’more. We left at sundown, with everything that would hold water full to the brim, an’ the boys cut green rushes for the oxen. Everyone walked that could, all during the night, following the Cap’n an’ Ol’ Greenwood’s boy, riding ahead with lanterns, following the tracks that Cap’n Stephens an’ the Doc and Joe Foster made, when they went on long scout to find that river that the o’l Injun tol’ us of. A night and a day and another night, missy  –  can you imagine that? No water, no speck of green, no shade. Jes’ putting one foot in front of the other. Old Murphy, he told them old Irish stories to his children, just to keep them moving. The oxen – I dunno how they kept on, bawlin’ for water all that time, and nothing but what we had brung. We had to cut them loose when they smelled that water in the old Injun’s river, though. Otherwise they’d have wrecked the wagons, and then where would we have been, hey?

Celia H.: In a bit of a pickle, I should imagine. Captain Stephens, what did you see as the most challenging moment?

ES: Getting the wagons up the pass.

IH: Hah! Had to unload them, every last scrap – and haul them wagons straight up a cliff. Give me a surefooted mule anytime, missy – those critters can find a way you’d swear wasn’t fit fer anything but a cat!

Celia H.: (waiting a moment for more from Captain Stephens.) Did you want to elaborate, Captain Stephens?

 ES: No.

Celia H.: Well – thank the both of you for being so frank and forthcoming about your incredible journey! I think we’ve managed to use up all the time that we have…

13. November 2011 · Comments Off on To Truckee’s Trail – The Very Roof of the Mountains · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Uncategorized · Tags: , , , , ,

Chapter 12 – The Very Roof of the Mountains

 From E.S. Patterson Interview, University of California Local History Archival Project 1932: “There was snow falling every day that we moved the wagons along the river. I don’t think we knew how bad things was, until Ma told Mister Stephens to kill the milk cow. We were only children, you see, but my little sister Sadie, she cried and cried. We all cried, even Ma, I think. That was the one milk cow we took from the old farm inIowa, and Ma, she still scolded us for crying. The men and Ma had consulted and decided to leave six wagons at the lake, and continue on with the teams that were still fit.”

From Dr. Townsend’s diary: “Twentieth of November, 1844 . . . still encamped at a lake in the mountains, endeavoring to find a way over the rampart of the mountains. There are three notches in the mountain wall to the west, the lower of the three appears to offer the clearest path. Captain Stephens has called another meeting.”

* * *

It seemed to John almost a twin of the meeting a week before, when Elizabeth and the others had drawn straws for the fast-moving party to go down the south fork, instead of carrying on west with the wagons: the fire burning on a bed of cherry-red coals, throwing up a shower of sparks, as another armload of wood we tossed into it, Stephens looking like a grim, bearded gargoyle.

“Folks,” he said, quietly, “Thanks for coming round. It’s too cold for a long palaver, so I’ll bite the bullet first. It’s been brought up before; we ought to leave the wagons –” He held up his hand, at the murmur of disagreement around the fire, and Isabella cried out, “We can’t! How can we manage with the children!”

“Miz Patterson, we already been all over that ground. I already know how some of you would be in a passel of trouble, trying to pack out enough to keep everyone fed an’ sheltered. So here’s my thought. Leave five or six wagons here, pack the rest with just what we’d need. Pool the fit oxen to double-team those wagons. And,” he looked serenely around the group of faces gilded by firelight, half in flickering shadow, “I’ll be the first to say I’ll leave my wagon here and put my team in the pool and come back in the spring to bring it out. Anyone else?” More »