Journey on the Oregon Trail

From the Journal of Ali Welsummer (By Natalie Kwong)

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Jackson, William Henry. Photograph of the Red Buttes. Digital image.Wikimedia. National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.

Journal Entry #1

April 25th, 1854


Dear Journal,

I am trusting you to keep my personal story of the Oregon Trail safe and well-preserved. Your leather cover that I hand stitched should hold up on my way across the country.


Hi, I am Ali Welsummer. I am about to start my Oregon Trail experience in here, but first I will tell you a little about myself. I am the oldest of 7 siblings. I have three brothers (Henry, Matthew, Edwin) and three sisters (Rebecca, Maria, Hanna). We're from Kentucky. Both my parents just died, and I am still grieving the terrible loss, but they left me $400 and the instruction to take care of my siblings and try to get to Oregon for a better life. So here I am.


I paid my parents' grave a visit before we left. It was the last time I would ever see where they rest. Once we're gone, we're not coming back.


Today is the first day of our journey. I have packed my wagon--and determination--to the fullest. I will not disappoint my siblings. They need me. I am also the wagon train leader in my group, for they know how strong-willed and quick thinking I am.


We had to cross the Missouri River. We could either ford the river for ourselves, where I found a fairly serene point in the water, or pay a Native American $25 for a ferry. I knew I had to be conservative with my parents' money, but I was not going to risk crossing on my own, so I paid for the ferry. Everyone in our group made it across safely, though, whether they forded or ferried.


Everyone in our wagon train had enough water, so we didn't have to stop to get water, which caused us to be ahead of the other wagons. I am proud. Even though I know that this isn't a competition with the other folks who are also traveling along the Oregon Trail, I can't help but have the need to be ahead of them. It's first come first serve once we reach Oregon, after all.


Some people hunted, but I didn't: there wasn't enough room in my wagon for any more things. The hunt was very successful, besides Tate, who didn't catch anything. But we all have plenty of food, and the game along the way is reassuring. I was duly impressed with their catches--15 pounds of deer! 15 pounds of buffalo! Hopefully our good fortune will last.


Later on that day, we decided to gamble with a Sioux chief, who said either we win and get rewards, or lose and have to reward them. I placed 2nd in the competition, and much to my relief I didn't have to give them anything. I don't like gambling, but the others in my group wanted me to. Let's be glad that I haven't let them down yet.


Our first day has been quite promising, but I don't want to get my hopes up. Lots of other dangers await us.


Yours,

Ali Welsummer

Journal Entry #2

June 17th, 1854


Dear Journal,

I apologize for not writing as often as I had expected. I have been very busy taking care of my siblings--they can be a handful!--and managing my supplies and leading the other people in my group. I can feel myself becoming stronger and wearier at the same time, if possible. The weather has been kind to us so far, but it is only June. I don't want to fathom what might happen in the winter. No, no, I have to stop worrying. Stop.


The last day I wrote was the first day on the trail, yes? Things seemed bright. I suppose they still are, but not as much. Something horrible happened to Lauren's (someone in my wagon train) family member. A snake scared one of Lauren's wagon horses and the family member was hurt. Despite not dying, she was severely injured. A broken leg. Now she can't do anything, and is taking up precious room in their wagon. Surely she wouldn't want to suffer, either. I hate to be inconsiderate, but there is no room for the weak and ill on the Oregon Trail.


Oh, and then there was a challenge from another Native American chief. This time, I did not do so well. My balance was horrible, and I lost, causing my wagon train to pay. Our wagons were delayed and we lost all of our ammunition. I hated losing almost as much as the consequences of it. The challenge itself was one that I didn't think proved any skill.


Something positive followed my loss, though. Since we had brought so many water barrels, we were able to fill up a lot of them at a clean water source. Now we have 18 full water barrels. Nothing makes me feel more reassured than the thought of having a plethora of water.


There was another river to cross, and there was another ferry who offered to help us travel safely across, but this time for $45. I bet the Native American earns a lot of money helping people cross. Avery, Sophia, and Sophie decided not to pay and cross on their own. Much to my despair, their wagons tipped and they lost some of their supplies. Nothing crucial was lost, which is a blessing in itself.


We stopped to hunt again. I didn't, but was very pleased to see that Avery and Chase both caught 10 pounds of rabbit, and Selim 30 pounds of buffalo! But, and this is quite exasperating, both Tate and Sophia accidentally hit their own water barrels and they lost one each. Such carelessness can be fatal out here, and their loss can be our loss too if supplies are running low.


Our safety is not guaranteed, but at least we all have rifles. There are so many dangers out here, listing all of them would take longer than the actual journey.


I will end this journal entry with our decision on which way to go. There was either the Burial Grounds Trail, which is faster but many times more perilous, for we would we crossing sacred Native American grave sites, and it is very well known that other pioneers have been attacked. The other way was the Cheyenne River Trail, where there is plenty of fresh water and a lesser chance of attack, but it would also mean going the long way around. Being safe is so important, but so is reaching Oregon as soon as possible. Thus, we chose to go through Burial Grounds. Let us all pray for the best.


Yours,

Ali Welsummer

Journal Entry #3

September 8th, 1854


Dear Journal,

Where did I leave off...ah, the beginning of Burial Grounds. We were delayed a bit from Sophia's inability to remember. Nevertheless we are doing okay. There was a dilemma along the trail but it did not affect us, so I will not go into details about that.


I have some great news. Avery's wife gave birth to a beautiful girl named Lily. This wonderful event cheered everyone up, and made us all forget about the uncertain trail--and future--ahead of us for a bit, albeit it is inevitable to whisk all our worries away. We are making good progress, but it is hard to say if we will get to Oregon on time. Another family member a fellow traveler was injured. The poor soul was run over by a covered wagon.


Food is running low in my wagon. Between the seven of us we've eaten more than half of the dried foods I brought, and then I lost another 50 pounds of beef...I decided to hunt, thinking about all the meat that others have caught, but I think my luck is running out. I didn't catch a single thing. Hanna and Matthew are always complaining about how hungry they are. Little do they know how much hungrier I am, for I give part of my share of food to them.


Chase, I should mention, is having some bad luck. He got a scorpian bite.


There was some murky water with dirt in it as we were traveling, and decided to try and purify it. We had the idea to put it in one of our dutch ovens and boil it over a fire. What we forgot to consider, however, was the dirt still left in the water. We should have filtered it through some cloth I had brought, and it was silly of me to forget about that important step. However, we were still able to use the water for the animals, although it would have been a better benefit if us the humans were able to drink it. Shame on me.


Another river we have to cross. Another fee I have to pay. My parents' money is critical, and it is dwindling, but I cannot risk my wagon and my siblings because I am being frugal. $50 is worth the safety of a ferry, is it not? I am apprehensive: we need money once we reach Oregon to start our new life.


Native Americans attempted to attack us. Oh, they scare me to death! It was terrifying, seeing them launch their arrows directly at us. Why must they do this, when we are simply passing through peacefully! Most arrows missed, but they met their targets with Lauren and Chase. Both of them got hit in the arm. It seemed so painful, it was hard to watch them tend to their wounds. Hopefully this won't slow down our progress.


We had to decide again which way we would take. There was Massacre (Massacre Canyon, I believe) where many people, including women and children, have been killed by angry Native Americans. Only a couple people from a group made it out alive. Now, you might wonder, why would anyone want to go that way? Well, I'll tell you: because it's the short way, and the faster we get to Oregon, the better. There was also the Salt Flats Trail, but we have heard mixed reports about it. One person said that there were a bunch of dangerous Native Americans, and it was a bad idea to go that way. Another person said they had just gone that way and it was perfectly safe. Oh, there was another trail, a safe and long one, but no one really bothered to consider that one. Salt Flats sounded good, but we decided to take Massacre. "Bring it on", they said.


My eyes are getting terribly heavy. The nights are getting colder. Everyone is shivering. I must rest.


Yours,

Ali Welsummer

Journal Entry #4

December 16th, 1884


Dear Journal,

We are getting close to Oregon, I feel it. Something has changed in the air, but I cannot tell what. The air is getting sharp, and crisp. Perhaps it is snow. But there's excitement, I'm sure of it. Just a little longer, I tell myself. One more footstep. One more. One more.


Some boulders had blocked our way. Most of us had hammers and pick axes, but not enough, apparently. For the few that didn't have them caused us delay. My patience is thinning considerably. All of us deserve to get to Oregon and to claim our own land. All of these small delays add up, and who knows what the consequences are going to be because of them.


And then, another delay. Another! Selim didn't bring animal feed, and that slowed down the animals, obviously. We need to go faster. I am getting anxious. The clouds are darkening. Every day is colder than the last. We have traveled so far...so far!


Avery had to show great endurance in a task, or else there would be bad aftermath. She did okay, but all of our oxen yoke broke. (Ha...yoke and broke rhyme. I think I am going slightly crazy, for I find this strangely amusing.) This did not slow us down, because we had all brought oxen repair yoke kits. Thank the Lord that everyone was well prepared for once, because I don't think I could have stood another delay. Every time we pause, it's like I can feel the toll it's taking on us.


It was the time to make the ultimate choice on what to do. We could either go through Snow Pass, send a scout through Snow Pass first and wait for them to report back, or stay safe in a village and wait to go to Oregon in the spring. The village was very tempting--they even had schools for education, and I do really want that for my siblings. But, if we waited til spring, there might not be anything land to claim in Oregon, which is unthinkable. There was another option, but I have already forgotten it, because of how bad of an idea it was. My wagon train and I debated on whether or not to send a scout first. It might be safer, but the time it would take to send a scout gives us a greater chance of getting stuck in the snowfall, and we wanted to get on our way as soon as possible. I decided that we would try to go through Snow Pass without sending a scout first and hope for the best. There is no doubt that it is going to snow, but whether the snow will be too heavy for us to travel through is the question.


I am currently writing this down on Snow Pass. It is so, so cold. Too cold. There is no where we can go. Not to Oregon, not to turn back around. There was a snowstorm, a horrible one, and now we are all trapped in the blizzard. Many of us already have frostbite, and others are resorting to cannibalism. Edwin and Rebecca have already died, but I lost their bodies out in the snow...Please forgive me. I felt so much regret and pain, but now I feel nothing. Everything is numb. It is hard to write.


Everyone is going to die. Cannibalism won't change that, so I'll leave this world in the little pride I still have left and not chow down on my fellow travelers. Maybe it is better that I cannot find Edwin and Rebecca.


Even in the bitter cold, I can smell what some of the pioneers are doing. I would gag if I was not so tired.


We've been stuck here for too long, and the snow and winds show no sign of dying down. Oh, how close we came! We have traveled more than a 1,000 miles--probably more than 1,500--and now, with Oregon so close, but we will never make it that far. Our group was too hasty to get there, I realize that now.


There will be no better life for any of us. This is where it ends.


Yours Forever,

Ali Welsummer

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Conestoga Wagon on Oregon Trail Reenactment 1961. Digital image.Wikimedia. Department of the Interior National Park Service, n.d. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.