Monday, August 4, 2014

Fort Laramie at Last

 Even though I grew up in Wyoming, as Did my Mom and her Dad before her - I had never been to Fort Laramie.  I grew up in the North-West corner of the State by Yellowstone Park.  So when I began researching for my Oregon Trail Novel, from my home here in the Pacific Redwoods, I used a lot of library books and mail order brochures, and as the years passed, Google and facebook.

 Facebook has a wonderful page about the Fort Laramie Historic Site at

 but still, even though we traveled back to visit family, we never quite made it to the fort, until this July.  This time, with my book published, and with having just taught it to a class of 4th and 5th graders, I really wanted to see the place in person. So we found it, kind of between whereby Sister-in-law and my Mother-in-law live and as soon as we got there, the sky opened up and dumped a flood of rain on us.

 but we are immune to rain after 30 years in the Pacific Northwest and also appeared to be the only visitors there who didn't own umbrellas, they don't work when you live where the rain comes down sideways.
 Anyway, I got to get out and stroll the grounds and grouse the rooms and get in on a "women at the fort" talk.  It was fascinating, but I learned it no longer looks much like the walled compound I had read about on that location in 1850.  The Fort has changed over the years, but the hail and heat and long miles to get to it remain the same, and when you think of doing those miles on foot or in a wagon, they appear so daunting!

 I like to camp, and I guess I could call this fun for maybe a month, but to travel in this for six months? I think I am glad I never had to do that, and yet, I wonder.

 To see my Novel about two fifteen year old girls, traveling across North America 152 years apart, but still helping each other, see here Double Time On The Oregon Trail

 a bit of the novel where I wrote about the fort follows at the end of this post

 Della stopped writing as a powerful memory hit her. She had been holding the hand of one of her students as the child jerked and screamed and died. There had been no time for the family to stop and mourn, but the men had immediately scraped out a shallow grave, wrapped the small body in a sheet and said a prayer before covering the grave with stones and more dirt and leaving it unmarked. All up and down the wagons, small groups were gathered for similar hurried funerals.
She blinked back tears and remembered the relief she had felt at reaching Fort Laramie for her Mother's sake. Dipping her pen once again in the unstoppered ink bottle, she picked up the writing again,

People tell me that the cholera seems to leave people alone once they make it to Fort Laramie. No one knows what causes it but they think the water is faster here and the land is higher and someway that adds protection. Our group is much smaller now than when we left St. Louis and the Cholera and accidents and weather and people shooting themselves have caused us to leave too many graves scattered behind us. The saddest part is that we will never be able to find the graves again, even if we ever come back this way. To hide the bodies from the wolves, or to keep them from being dug up for their clothing, we hid the grave by packing down the dirt and after that driving wagons across it, and if we had time, even building a campfire on top.
I doubted that she would agree, because Mother thinks that Doctors are all quacks. The fact that she didn't argue tells me she was feeling more poorly than she allowed to us. We did get Mother to see the fort Dr. today, and the man gave her a bottle of tonic which he says will stimulate her liver and clean her blood and leave her strong and healthy. He also gave her some Calomel, and told her that she should stop taking it once she feels her face go numb and she begins to drool a bit. Then she will know it is working. He said that after that, if she is still feeling poorly it is safer to switch to using arsenic to improve her health. He charged Father two dollars. Then he treated many other members of our group with such complaints as burns and gunshots and the bloody flux.
Orville said he must make a lot of money and the Dr. said he sometimes made as much as five dollars when he needed to perform an amputation. Orville said being a Fort Dr. must be a grand way to become rich and the Dr. did not argue. Later, one of the girls who lives here told me that the Dr. often treats people for free or for a bit of trade if he knows they could not pay for him.
Back East we did not go to Doctors, The home remedies are better and safer, and for certain no-one goes to a hospital if they want to live. Many people decide to hang a shingle and be a Dr. if they can't make money from another trade. Here on the trail they seem to be better, I think they see so many people that they get more practice doing the kind of healing that needs done here. Or maybe the kind of person who cheats people is too lazy to brave the trail.
We did get me a new pen in a leather case, with a few nibs, but I feel guilty for asking when the prices here are so much higher than in St. Louis.
Mother says she is grateful that we have enough bacon, and that our chickens provide eggs, but we purchase more cornmeal to refill the barrels. Maybe there was enough to make it to Oregon but it also protects our eggs and Mother's china, which is packed into the barrels with it.
Orville begged until he convinced one of the soldiers to allow him and three of his friends to climb up on the top of the rooms which are built around the inside walls. The roofs of these rooms become a walkway by which means the soldiers can patrol the high outer wall without making targets of themselves. I was expected to be more interested in shopping, but I envied the boys ability to explore that view. It wouldn't have been right for a young lady to talk so freely with the soldiers and for a moment I wished I were 10 instead of 15, so I could worry less about 'proper.'”

Della, Blow out that lantern and come to bed now.” Her Mother's voice interrupted the flow of her thoughts and Della looked at the burning candle behind the glass doors of the lantern. Those precious candles must last until Oregon City when they would finally have time to make more unlike the butter which churned itself on the trail, candle making could be very time consuming. She stoppered the ink, put away her journal and blew out the candle. Then she closed her eyes briefly to allow them to adjust to the dimmer light and when she opened them again the brilliance of the stars dancing above her took her smiling into sleep.

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