Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wednesday in Wyoming -- April 22, 2015

The Oregon Trail -- Part 4

When I think of pioneers heading west, I envision Conestoga wagons, but not all emigrants had enough money to buy the wagons and the oxen to pull them.  Some, most notably Mormon pioneers, pulled handcarts.

Believe it or not, each handcart was designed to hold all the possessions of a family of five. 

 While the contents of many handcarts were simply covered with a blanket, others resembled Conestoga wagons and had canvas tops.

These pictures were taken at the Martin's Cove Mormon Handcart Visitor Center which commemorates not only the entire handcart journey but also the many emigrants who lost their lives at Martin's Cove.  A late start, an early snowstorm and some poor decisions resulted in the deaths of almost a quarter of the 600 people who formed the Edward Martin Handcart Company.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wednesday in Wyoming -- April 15, 2015

The Oregon Trail -- Part 3

Have you ever heard of Devil's Gate?  If you were a pioneer on the Oregon Trail, you would have.  This Sweetwater River gorge was considered one of the major landmarks along the way.  Although wagons could not traverse the narrow pass, the emigrants found the area with its forage for livestock and wood for fuel a good place to camp.  

Besides the grass and wood, the site had the advantage of being partially blocked from the wind, thanks to those high cliffs.  Modern visitors can take a footpath to the gap or simply enjoy the natural beauty from the road.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wednesday in Wyoming -- April 8, 2015

The Oregon Trail -- Part 2

This is the scene pioneers would have faced as they headed west from Fort Laramie toward Laramie Peak,  the mountain in the background. 

At first glance, it may not look as if this is challenging terrain, but consider some of the hazards along the way.

Although most pioneers began the journey with sturdy boots, when they wore out, some had no replacements.  The Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper shows women and children walking barefoot across the prairie.  Even with boots, I wouldn't want to step on a prickly pear cactus.  Those spiky yucca leaves were even worse.  They have sharp serrated edges that can cut a skirt or unprotected skin.  Can you imagine how painful that would have been?

And, although the terrain in the first picture may have looked level, the reality is that the prairie consists of rolling ground.  Of course this road wasn't built in the middle of the nineteenth century, but it shows you just how many hills the pioneers had to travel.  I suspect that after a day of walking, even a slight incline would have been tiring.

Yet, despite all the challenges, hundreds of thousands of people made the journey west, their wagons leaving indelible marks in the limestone.  What courageous, strong people they were!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wednesday in Wyoming -- April 1, 2015

The Oregon Trail -- Part 1

This month, in honor of the publication of The Oregon Trail Romance Collection, I'm going to feature Wyoming sites along the Oregon Trail in my Wednesday in Wyoming posts. 

As pioneers entered what is now the state of Wyoming, the first major landmark they encountered was Fort Laramie.  And without a doubt, the most prominent building was the bachelor officers' quarters (BOQ), quickly nicknamed "Old Bedlam" because of the rowdy parties held there.

Built in 1849, Old Bedlam is the oldest military building in Wyoming and had a variety of uses.  Although it's most famous as a BOQ, it also served as the post headquarters and later housed married officers. 
As you can see, some of the officers left permanent reminders of their stay at Old Bedlam by signing the wall over the fireplace.  The table with cards and liquor bottles gives you an idea of how they spent their free time.
While the enlisted men had large dining halls and probably never saw a tablecloth, the officers had more privacy and luxury.  Still, life was not easy on a western fort.  Although there were few battles to be fought, the harsh conditions and boredom led to a relatively high desertion rate. 

I imagine that the arrival of wagon trains during the summer months helped alleviate the soldiers' boredom.  For the pioneers, Fort Laramie was the last place to rest and restock before they faced the most difficult part of their journey: crossing the mountains.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Crossing the Prairie

When you think of pioneers on the Oregon Trail, do you picture them riding in a covered wagon?  Reality was that many of them walked alongside the wagons.  If you're like me, you probably can't imagine walking literally thousands of miles, all because you wanted a better home, a farm of your own or simply more freedom. That strength, determination and courage are among the many reasons I admire the pioneers.

If you're wondering about the statue, I discovered it at the Leanin' Tree museum in Boulder, CO.  I knew Leanin' Tree was a manufacturer of high quality greeting cards but was surprised to learn that the founder of the company shares his large collection of western art with the public in an outdoor sculpture garden as well as a two-story indoor museum for paintings and smaller sculptures.

If you're ever in Boulder, I recommend a stop at the museum and, if you have the time, a tour of the factory.  It was fascinating to see how the cards are printed, cut and folded.  I even had the chance to try my hand at folding envelopes.  I failed!

Here's some information about this particular statue.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wednesday in Wyoming -- March 25, 2015

Have you seen anything like this?  It's called the Medicine Wheel and is one of the most famous Native American sites in the Big Horn Mountains. 

Getting there is an adventure.  Except for handicapped visitors, cars are not allowed to drive the last mile.  It's a difficult climb over uneven terrain, made all the more challenging because of the high altitude.  But the  wheel itself is unforgettable.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Setting for "The Sagebrush Bride"

Many of my books are set in fictional locations, but that's not the case with "The Sagebrush Bride."  I wanted my part of The Oregon Trail Romance Collection to be as authentic as possible, so I've used real locations.  Even though they look a bit different in the twenty-first century than they did in the middle of the nineteenth, I thought you might enjoy seeing them.

The story starts with Avice looking at Chimney Rock, one of the landmarks in Western Nebraska.  Here's a distant view of that famous site.
And here's a closer view so you can see why it's called Chimney Rock.  It reminds Avice of something different, but it does look like a chimney, doesn't it?

The majority of the story takes place at Fort Laramie, where travelers bought supplies and rested for a day or two before embarking on the most difficult part of the journey west.

Aren't the trees beautiful?  They weren't there when Avice and the other pioneers saw the fort.  This picture shows the old and new guard houses (not places you'd want to spend any time, I assure you) and the ruins of the administration building.  The big grassed area in the center is the parade ground, where the soldiers practiced marching.

As you might expect, Officer's Row was the most beautiful part of the fort.  The buildings you see are the surgeon's quarters, the Burt House and the sutler's store.

Ah, the sutler's store.  That's where Raleigh spends his days and where he and Avice meet for the first time.

What's inside this rather plain looking building?  Many, many things. 
Travelers could buy everything from blankets and saddles to tonics.
I forgot to mention soap and kettles, didn't I?  And then there were shoes and boots.

The sutler's store was one-stop shopping, simply because it was the only store on the post ... or, for that matter, in the whole area.  Is it any wonder Avice made it her first stop when she arrived at the fort?

As for what happens next, all I'm going to tell you is that she got much more than she expected when she set foot inside.  And so did Raleigh.