Tillie's Journal: August 07, 1892
I hate this.
I aim to write down every awful thing about our trip thus far.
Every day, our covered buckboard rumbles awkwardly over these hard, rutted tracks. All the contents crash and bang into their neighboring bits and baubles, resulting in a cacophony of sounds, all playing madly over one another. And it's not just our paltry amount of things making the devil's music, it's the entire wagon train.
I hope to become deaf somewhere along this never ending journey.
Thus far, I've had no such luck. The days are endless stretches of either sitting or walking amidst other weary travelers, as well as these awful covered buckboards squeaking and creaking and grinding. The nights are full of crackling fires, guitar music, and exhausted voices, not to mention the incessant sounds of oxen, mules, horses, and cattle. The moaning and moving about of all these animals is almost as obnoxious as the daytime jangle of all our possessions.
I aim to never climb aboard another wagon once we finally get to Cripple Creek, Colorado. I plan to walk everywhere or ride a horse, no matter how unladylike. My pa is convinced he can find gold in Colorado, just like his childhood friend Mr. Bob Womack did. And I have to suffer for this delusion. I wish he didn't read his friend's letters, or the newspapers, or listen to Bedford's town gossip.
How I miss good old Bedford, Kentucky.
The first half of our trip west from Kentucky was actually quite pleasant. We boarded a steamboat and sailed down the Ohio River until it met the great Mississippi, then went upriver to St. Louis, where we boarded a smaller steamer to go up the much smaller Missouri River to Independence. Those leisurely days aboard ship were spent reading and conversing with other passengers about their lives and destinations. It made me feel like a well-to-do lady, not an awkward teenager whose life had just been upended—again. Seeing the ever-changing territories slide by beyond the water's edge was calming, and I had begun to be grateful Pa made me come along.
Then everything changed once we were done traveling on the rivers. Pa bought this old buckboard from a tired-looking old man, added curved bows like ribs sticking up from the wagon bed, then covered it with canvas to protect our things from the coming dust and rain and baking sun. I helped Pa fill the old buckboard with the few things we'd carried in our trunks from home. Those first few nights sleeping in the clean, organized wagon were actually fun—like camping in the yard at home with my brothers.
But once we bought a pair of oxen and a few other necessities, and joined a few others toward the head of the famous Santa Fe Trail, it was no longer any fun. The much-used trail from Independence to Kansas City (which is still in the state of Missouri, for some reason) was rutted and dusty. Grit invaded everything almost immediately, including our packed clothes and food stores. That short trek in this horrid contraption is what convinced me I didn't want to continue on once we reached the beginning of the Trail.
I begged and pleaded with Pa to sell the oxen and wagon and spend the money on railroad tickets to Colorado instead. When he said "no" I begged to be sent home to Bedford to live with Aunt Betty, Uncle Howard, and my cousins. But, no. My tears could not persuade him. Pa said he'd never be able to live with himself if something happened to me while he was away—but what about all of this?
Any westward expedition is dangerous. I've heard it said for years, and I've read about it in the papers, and I've felt it deep in my bones these last dreadful weeks. Every loud, jarring sound from our fellow travelers makes my heart beat faster, and I imagine an entire tribe of Indians chasing after us or a stampede of bison or a pack of coyotes.
My young nerves are frayed. Fourteen-year-old girls like myself should not be making this arduous journey without a passel of brothers to protect her—maybe an army.
Except, all of my brothers and sisters are dead, along with my sweet ma. The consumption was not kind to our family. Only Pa and I are left to make this inane trip. I can't help but wish they were here so I had someone to complain with about all of this, to keep me company on these long days and nights. Their pale, sunken faces haunt me still. They will probably haunt me for the rest of my days.
It's getting late and it's been another long, hard day. Pa says it's time to snuff out the candle. I'm tired anyhow.
John's Journal: August 11
My true goal isn't the search for gold, though I shall do my best to find my share. I fear for Tillie. Our meager belongings barely fill our homemade prairie schooner, unlike some families, who seem to have packed even their dining tables and dog houses for the trip.
We shall break off from the main Santa Fe Trail after we reach Dodge City and travel northwest with a new wagon master. I think it will be young Jesse. He's ridden this trail thrice before and will go back to collect another ragtag group once he delivers us safely to Colorado Springs. From there, we can travel to Cripple Creek with a different guide, a mountain guide. I hope the air isn't too thin that high up.
My breathing began to feel labored months ago. I'm certain that I too am ill, and so refused to let Tillie stay behind with her cousins last month. Colorado's dry high mountain air has been known to help consumptive patients, and I can only hope it will help me as well. I couldn't bid a premature farewell to my only remaining child and risk never returning to her. I need her with me. She has become my strength these past few years.
She was a beautiful baby, an obedient third-born child, and a dutiful nursemaid to her dying brothers and sisters. And her ma. I hope to spare her any further pain.
Losing so much has made me a hard man, I know. My temper has become short, and my panic is mounting. I hope we reach Colorado before Tillie notices any rattling in my chest. I can feel it there, though it isn't yet obvious to the ear. I'm grateful for the constant discordant sounds of the wagon train.
Sitting around the fires at night, I'm constantly moving to get out of the choking, smoky, shifting breeze. I hate to exacerbate my condition. The other travelers probably think me evasive and untrustworthy, but I don't mind. I'm not on this journey to make friends.
I just heard a pack of coyotes yipping and screeching at each other, the young ones joining in, too. These wily creatures seem to roam the Kansas plains and prairies like unchallenged gods. I miss the verdant flora of Kentucky. These past weeks on the trail west have tested every bit of my sanity and patience. As a former printer compositor for the Trimble Banner newspaper, I'm not as hardened as these other men—like Maurice the Blacksmith, or Thomas the Mason. My pale, spindly limbs are surely a topic of humor for them. But, once again, I am not here to make friends.
Colorado may prove to be my salvation. Only another few weeks and we'll be there long before the snows start to fall. I hope.
Tillie's Journal: August 13
Something is wrong with Pa. He avoids me during the comparative quiet of the evenings and chooses to stay outside, leaving me alone in this dreadful wagon. I usually wake up alone, too.
He's been outside this morning for a while, I think, yet his scent still lingers underneath the canvas. I think he has newspaper ink permanently embedded in his pores, because he's been out of work for months now, and still I smell it on him.
We were still reeling from the last two losses of Ma and little Anna, when Mr. Womack wrote to Pa. He moved to Colorado thirty years before to cattle ranch with his father, but his recent gold-finding mountain adventures seemed to spark some life in my pa. If I'd known that talking with Pa about Mr. Womack's letters and far away Colorado would have sparked this foolhardy trip, I would have ignored his chatter. I may have been able to stop the trip before we got this far.
John's Journal: August 16
I haven't written in a while because our wagon train has been delayed by unexpected rain and thick mud. Several prairie schooners lost a wheel in the deep muck, and one of them had to move forward without replacing it. Since they're limping along with only the three, the rest of the train is required to slow down to match their speed. Now we can only travel about half the distance we used to each day, and I'm beginning to wonder if we'll make Cripple Creek before the first snowfall after all. No matter. Onward we must go. I left nothing behind to return to in Kentucky.
Unfortunately, this journey has turned Tillie into a sullen, reclusive young woman. She refuses to talk about where we're going and has never stopped begging to turn around. I am near my wit's end. She no longer visits with any other travelers. I knew she didn't want to come along, but I didn't know she'd sink so far inside of herself as to stop communicating with me these past two days.
Should I tell her the real reason we're going?
Should I send her home alone?
Tillie's Journal: August 21
The wagon train has finally crossed over into Colorado. I sat up front with him for the first time in a while, trying to spot the Rocky Mountains in the far distance. I can't see them yet, but Pa assures me they must be there, over the next rolling hill. Or the next. Or the next. At least the land is no longer so flat. It's getting a little colder, especially for August, and the last two nights have been downright freezing.
I wish I were back home in verdant Kentucky with the cool Ohio River, giant shade trees, fireflies—and even my family's graves.
At least now I know why we're really traveling out west. Pa is sick. I confronted him earlier, and he tried to deny it at first, but he knows I'm no longer a foolish child. I've lost more people to this wasting disease than I care to number. I know the signs.
Will I be next?
Why haven't I become ill yet?
John's Journal: August 22
Tillie is being cordial with me once more. She even sat up front for a few hours yesterday and asked about Colorado. And I finally told her, or rather, she deduced my tenuous condition on her own. Perhaps I should have told her from the start. She might not have been so eager to turn around. It's too late to worry over my past decisions now. At least we're nearly there.
In listening to the other members of the wagon train, we've decided that we should stop our travels in Colorado Springs instead of heading into the mountains themselves. I truly like this idea, and so does Tillie, though I'm fully certain it's because it would shorten our journey quite a bit. If the area is not to my liking, I may insist we travel up to the capital city of Denver and settle there, instead. Either way, I'm certain there will be at least one newspaper for me to approach about employment.
Though, perhaps I should wait until my chest clears before I attempt to set up typeface on the presses, again.
Tillie's Journal: August 23
I have finally made a friend. Myrtle is two years younger, but doesn't seem to hold that against me. She's traveling from the state of New Jersey with both of her parents and her only surviving sibling, Little Herbert. Consumption took the rest, just like my family. They plan to winter with some distant cousins in Colorado Springs, then continue on to Oregon next year.
I was drawn to Myrtle because of the patient way she cares for her toddling brother. We sat and commiserated about the horrors of the wagon train last night. It was nice to have someone near my age to converse with, since Pa refuses to acknowledge any of the bad parts with me. I know he's trying to stay cheerful, but I'm quite certain he's enjoying this journey no more than I.
John's Journal: August 27
The sunset was beautiful last night. The high clouds were pink and orange, lit by the sun hiding behind the distant Rocky Mountain range. It reminded me of all the times Isadora and I would sit on the front porch together once the children were all in bed, sharing our thoughts.
I miss her very much. Isadora is indelibly etched on my memory, so I bring her with me even now. Yet, I would give almost anything to hold her tonight.
Sometimes it's disturbing to see remnants of her likeness in Tillie's face and mannerisms. Sometimes it's hard to watch my only remaining child—it makes my heart ache so much.
Thankfully, Tillie has become more like her old self since I told her that we would stop traveling soon. She spent a bit of time tidying up our dusty prairie schooner earlier, and even served me tea and sat with me by the fire tonight, although I'm uncertain where she found the dried tea leaves. Perhaps she's made friends with young Myrtle after all.
Tillie's Journal: September 03
I am beyond overjoyed! Colorado Springs is nearly in sight! We shall arrive before noon tomorrow and then all of this will finally, mercifully, be over. I can hardly wait to sleep inside of a building and on a real bed once more! Oh, I can practically feel it!
Myrtle said her father's cousins live near downtown, and I'm certain Pa will find us a room as close to them as we can afford, so we girls will be able to meet with each other until they move on next year. I hope they choose to stay.
I hope I grow to like the sparse greenery of Colorado and the dry air. The mountains are beautiful in a desolate kind of way. I overheard someone say they look even better topped with a white blanket of snow.
I still can't believe the ordeal of this wagon train is nearly behind us. Everything within me wants to push through and arrive tonight, but Jesse, the wagon master, says the town isn't prepared to receive so many of us in the dark of night. Such a shame.
The rattle in Pa's chest seems to have abated a little already. That may be my own wishful thinking, but at least it hasn't gotten any worse. I plan to ride into town with my head held high and help him recover fully from his illness. I even plan to take a job in the first shop that will have me, so Pa can rest.
I'm so glad we won't be continuing into the mountains to search for gold like Mr. Womack. I'm glad to have a friend, and I'm glad to have a chance at a life away from the memories of Ma and my lost brothers and sisters. I shall always remember them, but they should not haunt me out here. Onward we go, Pa says, and tomorrow shall begin a new chapter.