Thursday, January 23, 2014

"EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter Thirty-Three


The following is Chapter Thirty-Three of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849: 

Chapter Thirty-Three - The Great Separation

September 3, 1849

I am in a state of shock at this moment. Today has been very traumatic for me. For all of us. The wagon party that had departed western Missouri nearly four months ago has been reduced in half. And I now find myself estranged from my brother . . . the only member of my family in this part of the country. I do not know what to do.

Earlier today, the wagon party reached a trail known as the Applegate-Lassen Cutoff. According to Mr. James, Oregon-bound emigrants have used this cutoff as a shorter and less hazardous route to that particular territory for the past three years. Mr. Goodwin added that he learned from a trapper that the trail had another cutoff. Last year, a rancher from the territory named Peter Lassen had opened up a second cutoff that would lead emigrants to his California ranch. According to Mr. Goodwin, this trail would allow travelers to avoid the Forty-Mile Desert and the worst of the Sierra Mountains.

Mr. James warned us that the Lassen cutoff is nothing more than a death trap that would lead emigrants to barely passable terrain. Both Mr. Robbins and Elias supported his claim. But when our two mountain men admitted that they had never experienced the trail, Mr. Goodwin and Mr. Moore questioned them. Both men had learned about the difficulties of the cutoff from a fellow mountain man before our departure from Independence. But since neither of them had ever traveled along that particular trail, their advice was dismissed by some members of the wagon party. However, Mr. James refused to use the cutoff and Mr. Goodwin made his move. He decided it was time we voted for a new captain for the wagon train.

I am thankful to say that Mr. Goodwin failed to gather the right amount of votes needed to win. I noticed with some dismay that Benjamin had voted for Mr. Goodwin. How could he vote for some Southerner, who just three months earlier, tried to get Elias arrested as a runaway slave? Vote against Mr. Robbins? As for Mr. Goodwin, he refused to take defeat gracefully. He announced his plans to use the Lassen cutoff. Mr. Moore and Mr. Bryant decided to join him. So did one of the Palmer brothers. That was a surprise. I think the older brother, Richard, was shocked that his younger brother would leave the wagon party. But he refused to follow Mr. Goodwin. On the other hand, Mr. Cross, who continued to recover from his wound, shakily announced his attention to remain with the Robbins wagon party.

To my utter surprise, Benjamin volunteered to join the Goodwin party. I was in shock. I had no desire to spend the rest of this journey without the escort of experienced frontier men such as Mr. James and Elias. And I told him so. Benjamin brusquely reminded me that as the female member of our family, I had no say in the matter. Well, I proved him wrong. Without saying a word, I removed my personal belongings - including my money - from our wagon and asked the Robbins if I could travel with their wagon. Benjamin tried to force me to stay with him, but Elias stepped in and came to my rescue. As for Miss Guilbert, she volunteered to replace me as Benjamin's traveling partner. Good riddance.

The new Goodwin party broke off from our wagon party about a half hour before we continued our journey along the Humboldt River. Watching Benjamin and the others disappear into the horizon, a lump formed in my throat. I could not help but wonder how our father would receive the news of our separation. I do not know. Perhaps it was for the best, considering Benjamin's earth shattering revelation about his feelings for me. Despite my revulsion, a part of me wondered if I would ever see Benjamin again.

End of Chapter Thirty-Three

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