The following is Chapter Sixteen of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:
Chapter Sixteen – Cholera Along the Platte River
June 5, 1849
Not long after we had left Fort Kearney, Mr. James had revealed that he and his fellow mountain men had a saying about the Platte River. "Too thick to drink, too thin to plow". Those were his words. And in the past week-and-a-half since our departure from the fort, I see what he meant.
The Platte River is the most pathetic looking body of water I have ever laid eyes upon. There are times when it looks more like a large stream, instead of a river. Although the Mississippi River looked rather ugly, it has a majestic look that makes the Platte pale in comparison. Come to think of it, the Platte also pales in comparison to the Missouri River. Worst of all, its water is brackish, making it impossible to drink. Mr. James and Mr. Wendell both advised the rest of us not to drink from the water. Instead, they have been finding campsites for the train along occasional water springs that provide fresh water. But on four occasions, the wagon train has been forced to camp along the Platte. And we have been forced to boil the water drawn from the river before drinking it. This is intolerable.
June 9, 1849
When Benjamin and I had left St. Louis, I felt certain that we had escaped the cholera that raged along the Mississippi River Valley. Apparently not. Thanks to the number of emigrants traveling westward this spring, the cholera epidemic has reached the Western plains. And it has finally struck our wagon train. The company woke up this morning to discover that Mr. John Cross has been struck down by the disease. At this moment, he lies inside the Cross wagon, barely hanging on to life. Fearful that the disease might spread throughout the train, Mr. James advised that we push on. And he ordered Marcus Cross to remain behind and nurse his cousin.
Mrs. Robbins had volunteered to remain behind and help Mr. Cross nurse his cousin, but Mr. James immediately rejected her services. He pointed out that we could not afford to allow the disease to spread to other emigrants. The Crosses would have to endure their travails alone.
June 11, 1849
We finally learned news about the Cross cousins. During our noon halt, one of the Mr. Palmers spotted a lone wagon traveling toward us. It belonged to the Crosses. Both Mr. James and Mr. Wendell rode out to meet the travelers. Or should I say . . . traveler? They came back with the news that Mr. John Cross had passed away from cholera, hours after we had left him and his cousin behind.
After burying his cousin along the trail, Mr. Marcus Cross rushed to catch up with the wagon train, the morning following his cousin’s death. It took him a day. And during those 24 hours, he managed to remain free from the taint of cholera. However, some members did not want him to rejoin the train. The Gibsons, the Goodwins, Mr. Anderson and even Benjamin demanded that Mr. Cross remain at a distance, until they could be certain that he would not spread the cholera to the rest of us. Fearing a mutiny, Mr. James had no choice to inform Mr. Cross of their ultimatum.
End of Chapter Sixteen