(My ancestors, the Lawsons, leaving Missouri to move West in about 1908,
the lady near the middle in white is my Grandmother, Laura Lawson) 

Missouri, Where The Trails Began

Imagine what it would have been like to be a pioneer in America in 
the mid-1800s and working your way westward in a covered wagon. 
Missouri was where the trails began and Independence became known 
as “The Queen City of The Trails”, because all of the trails west 
could be accessed from there.

Covered wagons carried mainly tools, food, and supplies.  If a wagon 
was too heavily loaded, the oxen, or mules could not handle the load 
when it came to the steep pulls. It was said that you didn’t have 
to venture far out of Independence to find the trail strewn with items 
that had been left behind to lighten the load.

Once the pioneers crossed the Missouri River, they left 
civilization behind them and began their journey on 
what became known as The Oregon Trail.

Perhaps, the journey began something like this:

A Future and A Hope

“Heard some news in town today”, Papa began cautiously as 
he sat down with his family around the kitchen table. 
“Your Momma and I been talkin’ bout it for a spell,” he said as 
he glanced Momma’s way and then buttered a piece of cornbread. 
“I know this kind o’ thing is hard to get a handle on for you youngins 
but it just might be our big chance to make a new life.  You know how
we been wantin’ to buy us some land of our own to farm but 
just can’t seem to get ahead… an’ all we’re ever gonna have here 
where we are now is just gittin’ by or workin’ for somebody else 
with no hope for a future.” 

Papa’s voice began to rise as he continued, “And I’ll be switched if I’m 
gonna keep on workin’ for nothin’ when there’s a chance for somethin’ better.”
We all knew what Papa was talking about, at least those of us old enough to understand.  I’d heard about it down at the school but I never thought 
about it having anything to do with us.  I guess I should have thought about it
because Papa was a dreamer, so Momma said, and he didn’t hold much 
with depending on or working for anyone else.

“Now, they’re a sayin’ that there’s this land to be had out 
in the Oregon Country and it’s there for the takin’.  A man and 
his wife can have a square mile of land apiece…that’s 640 acres by
my figurin’ and that would be something a man could sink a plow into 
for sure.” Papa continued.

I glanced around the table at the other children who were intently watching 
Papa and waiting for what he would say next.  Benjamin and Paul 
both looked excited but that was because they were the oldest 
and they were twins.  They were always excited about anything to do 
with Papa because they looked up to him and wanted to be just like him. 
It was all just a big adventure to them.

Mary Elizabeth was pushing her food around on her plate and not eating a bite.

My little sister, Sarah, was sitting next to me at the table. 
She was clutching her rag doll that Momma had made her and looking 
kind of scared.

Papa paused to dip another helping of Momma’s stew when 
four year old Sarah touched my shoulder, “Becca”, she whispered, 
“Can Stray go wif us too?”

“Shush Sarah, Papa is talking!  We’ll ask Papa later about Stray.”

Stray was a little yellow dog that showed up at the barn one day, 
looking as if he hadn’t eaten for days.  Papa pretended not to like the dog 
but Rebecca had seen him pat him on the head and feed him scraps 
when he thought nobody was watching.  When little Sarah had come out 
to the barn one day, she spied the dog and asked his name. 
Papa said, “He’s a stray.”   Sarah began petting him, saying,  “Hello, Stray”. 
The dog seemed to answer her as he wagged his tail 
and licked her hand, and the name had stuck.

Sarah turned back to her plate, as she decided to obey Rebecca, 
but stuck out her lower lip and slipped a pinch of the cornbread 
under the table to Stray who was forever at Sarah’s feet.

About that time my baby brother began to cry.  Momma picked him up
from the little wooden crate Papa had worked over into a fine 
baby cradle that would even rock.  He was just three weeks old 
and hadn’t been named yet.  Momma wanted to name him from the Bible 
like the rest of us but Papa was holding off because he thought 
none of the names Momma mentioned seemed to fit the little guy.

“It’s 1842 now”, Papa said emphatically as he took up his conversation again. 
“Things have changed some and they say the trip across the land is easier now. 
Since the Whitmans went out in ’36, lots more folks are going… women 
and children too.  Why they say that Oregon is so fertile and the weather 
so fine that a man can grow a cabbage as big as a wagon wheel!” 
Papa looked straight at us children and laughed excitedly 
as he motioned with his hands as to the size of the cabbage. 

“James Zachary!” Momma scolded, “Don’t you be storying to the children.”

“Now Martha, what I’m telling is for sure a fact.  Well… maybe not 
quite as big as wagon wheels but almost!”  Papa conceded grudgingly,

Papa’s face turned serious again as he looked at Momma, 
“Martha, I hear there’s a lot of wagons headin’ out next spring and 
we’d have no trouble makin’ it to Independence by then. 
We’re not that far away, already bein’ here in Missouri.  We’re a 
far sight closer than those already tryin’ to get out here from 
way back east. We got the farm wagon and if we sell what we can here, 
we’d have enough to buy us supplies and maybe even another wagon or two.” 

I knew from the way Papa was talking that his mind was settled.  He was actually 
going to do it.  We were really going out to the Oregon Country. 

Pamela Perry Blaine
copyright, March 2004

"No other race of men with the means at their command would undertake 
so great a journey, none save these could successfully perform it, 
with no previous preparation, relying only on the fertility of their own invention 
to devise the means to overcome each danger and difficulty as it arose. 
They have undertaken to perform with slow-moving oxen a journey of 
two thousand miles. The way lies over trackless wastes, wide and deep rivers, 
ragged and lofty mountains and is beset with hostile savages." 
*Jesse Applegate 1843

*Jesse Applegate was a pioneer who crossed the Oregon Trail in 1843, 
and later helped establish the Applegate Trail in an effort to find 
a safer route after his nine year old son drowned while crossing the Snake River.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, 
thoughts of peace and not of evil, 
to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11