“Roll the wagons!” Caleb, your wagon train captain, commands. It’s still early, but you scramble to help get your family’s wagon moving with the rest of the train. Even though you’ve been on the Oregon Trail for over two months now, you’re still impressed with how quickly everyone in your wagon train manages to finish morning chores, have breakfast, and repack the wagons before the starting bugle sounds. Then you set off on a full day’s hike, which usually covers fifteen miles a day, though you’ve slowed down a little since entering the pass through the Rocky Mountains.
“When can we stop for lunch?” Samuel asks almost as soon as you start walking alongside your wagon.
You can’t help but smile at him, even as you roll your eyes. Your little brother asks the same question every single day—and always just after breakfast.
“As soon as you see the sun touch those trees,” Pa replies to Samuel, and points to the distance.
“Are we going to see anything interesting today?” your younger sister Hannah asks, tugging on Pa’s sleeve.
You’re curious about what landmarks are ahead, too. A week ago, your wagon train left Devil’s Gate, a towering chasm cut right through the cliffs and the most remarkable sight of your journey so far. Plus, Caleb surprised you by taking you to a spot where you dug for ice, buried underneath the ground.
“Today we should reach South Pass,” Pa says.
“It’s the part of the trail where we finally enter into Oregon Territory,” you say. “The Land of Promise!”
Ma looks at you with a wide smile. “We’ll have finished half of our journey by then,” she says.
Halfway at last! Your heart swells with pride that your family has made it this far. Ten weeks ago, you started your travels on the Trail in Independence, Missouri, after leaving your comfortable home in Kentucky in March. But then you sigh deeply as you realize that you still have an equally long way to go.
It’s hard to imagine that this wide and gently sloping path is leading you through the Rocky Mountains. Pa tells you how the pass was discovered by fur traders over thirty years ago. Without the path, getting through the mountains would be impossible for the ten wagons that now make up your train.
“Here, boy,” your friend Eliza calls out to Archie, your dog. Archie runs up to Eliza with his tail wagging. She hands him a morsel of bacon that she saved for him from breakfast.
Eliza and her brother, Joseph, Caleb’s children, have become your best friends. Some of your favorite memories of this trip include the time spent exploring and playing games with them. And Archie has become really attached to Eliza, who takes the time to brush his coat after a long day’s hike and always remembers to give him treats.
You walk for a few hours until it’s time for “nooning,” the midday rest everyone anticipates. Caleb had sent you, Joseph, and Eliza a little ways ahead of the wagons to help scout for a nice spot to rest. Ma likes the midday break because no one has to build a fire or cook anything. Instead, she pulls out leftovers from breakfast as a snack. You happily nibble on some cold flapjacks that were cooked in bacon grease, while the oxen rest and sip from the stream nearby.
“These are the Pacific Springs,” Pa says. “We’ve left home waters behind.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Caleb says, raising his water-skin with a grin. “From this point onward all waters flow into the Pacific Ocean instead of the Atlantic. We have just crossed the Continental Divide.”
You take a moment to think about what that means. You’ve moved from the eastern part of the continent into the West. Amazing!
Hannah and Samuel take a nap in the wagon, lying on their feather mats. You notice the soles of their sturdy walking shoes are almost completely worn out again after being repaired just a few weeks ago. Yours are in equally bad shape, and the rocky terrain ahead is only going to be rougher.
“We all need to make a very big decision in a couple days,” you hear Caleb tell your folks. “We’ll be reaching the Parting of the Ways.”
You listen closely. With a name like that, you know it has to be important.
“At that point, there are two ways to go,” Caleb continues. “We can continue on the Trail, or take the Greenwood Cutoff.”
“What is the cutoff?” Ma asks.
“It’s a shortcut that will take at least five or six days off our journey,” Caleb explains. “But it will take us through a desert.”
“How many miles of desert would we have to cross?” you ask.
“About fifty,” Caleb explains.
“What’s the other option?” Pa asks.
“We’d be heading south, toward Fort Bridger, and would have to cross the Green River,” Caleb replies. “I’ve heard good and bad things about both options, so think about it.”
For the next two days, all everyone talks about is the Parting of the Ways. When you finally approach the famous fork in the Trail, it is unmistakable. One set of wagon ruts leads to the left, toward Fort Bridger, while the other leads right, toward the cutoff. In the middle is a wooden pole. Plastered on it are scraps of paper with the names of those who have traveled through already, indicating which road each of them decided to take.
People in your group have strong opinions about which path is better. Some are convinced that saving a week with the cutoff is the only option that makes sense, even if it means crossing a desert. Others are frightened by the idea of a waterless journey and want to stick with the road to Fort Bridger, even if it means crossing the tricky Green River.
Pa turns to you to help decide which way to go.
“What do you think we should do?” he asks.
If you say you should head to Fort Bridger, turn to page 126
If you say you should take the Greenwood Cutoff, turn to page 106