Thursday, October 9, 2014

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

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

Chapter Thirty-Four - The Forty-Mile Desert

September 7, 1849

Four days have passed since part of our wagon party decided to break away and travel along the Applegate-Lassen Cutoff for California. Four days since I last laid eyes upon Benjamin. And I am at a loss. I continue to find it difficult to adjust to the loss of Benjamin in my life . . . despite the estrangement between us, the quarrels and the discovery of his true feelings toward me. How on earth will I survive in California on my own? I have my money, but who knows how long it will last? Although I am literate and know how to maintain a house, I have no other particular skill. And I certainly have no desire to sell my body for money. Once I reach California . . . if I ever reach California, I have no idea where I will live or survive. Something to ponder upon.

September 10, 1849

Mr. Cross seems fully recovered from the wound he had sustained from the late Mr. Anderson. He resumed control over the reins of his wagon from a very relieved Mr. James. His recovery at this point of the trip might prove to be divine Providence. We have reached the western end of the Humboldt River and arrived at the Humboldt Sink, which seemed to be a marshy lake filled with alkali water. During our journey along the Humboldt River, Mr. James had advised Mr. Robbins that the wagon party should fill the barrels with boiled water to prepare us for the the next stage of the journey - the Forty Mile Desert, which we would have to cross to reach the Carson River. Apparently, no boiling could ever make the water from the Sink drinkable. Still . . . we will have to ration our use of the water for the next three or four days. Mr. James also suggested that we rest by day and travel by night, when the heat will be more bearable.

September 12, 1849

If there is a hell on earth, it must be the Forty Mile Desert. I have never come across such a desolate spot during the past four months of our journey. There is barely a tree or shrub in sight. Or drinking water, for that matter. We just came across a spring of water that proved to be dreadfully hot and completely undrinkable. Despite his recovery, Mr. Cross seemed a little worn at the edges. During our daytime stops, Mr. and Mrs. Gibson have struggled to keep their children in sight, in case one of them become tempted to wander away from the camp. The older Mr. Palmer confided to me his shock over his brother's decision to join Mr. Goodwin's party. I revealed that I understood his feelings, considering Benjamin's decision. Mr. Palmer also confessed that he sometimes find himself wondering if he should have joined his brother and the rest of the Goodwin party. But when I recall Mr. James' words about the cutoff being a death trap, I assured him that despite our current travails, we have made the right choice.

September 13, 1849

Not long before dawn, one of Mr. Cross' mules dropped dead from exhaustion. Or lack of water. Frankly, I have no idea what killed the beast. I do know that Mr. Cross is short one draft animal. Mr. Robbins suggested that Mr. Cross saw the wagon in half in order to relieve the remaining mule of any excess weight. Somehow, I fear that Mr. Cross' efforts might come to nothing. The ground has become soft from alkali sand. And being more than five inches deep, it has made it difficult for our animals to pull the wagons. In the end, Mr. Cross dumped a good deal of his possessions. Those possessions would be in good company. We have spotted a good deal of abandoned furniture and other goods during our journey across the river. Mr. James advised that he keep his water barrel, since it would be necessary for the rest of the trip.

September 14, 1849

At last, we have reached the end of the Forty Mile Desert. Elias claimed that our wagon party should count ourselves lucky in that the only loss we have suffered was one mule, and one half of a wagon. No one was more happy than I when we finally reached the banks of the Carson River. It was a relief to drink and bathe in fresh, cool water. Our stock certainly seemed happy. And so did the members of our wagon party. Mr. Robbins announced that we will recuperate from our three-day journey for the rest of the day and resume traveling tomorrow. Hallelujah!

End of Chapter Thirty-Four

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