You dip your hands into the warm water and splash it over your hot, sweaty face. It’s so refreshing to wash the grime off your skin after being on the dusty trail that you can’t help but smile.
The water is lapping at you like a soft, wet tongue . . . until suddenly you wake up, reach out, and feel something furry.
“Archie! Yuck!” you groan, pushing your dog away from where he’s been licking your face.
Archie just looks at you with his big brown eyes and wags his tail.
“It’s all right, boy.” You laugh, scratching him around the ears as the five-a.m. bugle sounds. It’s barely light outside your tent, but it’s time to start the morning chores, eat breakfast, pack up your wagon, and get back on the Trail.
It’s already been almost four months since you started your journey from Independence, Missouri, back in May. But every morning, it’s a little harder to get up
“Wake up, Samuel.” You nudge your little brother, fast asleep beside you. “You need to milk Daisy.”
“You do it,” Samuel moans, rolling over on his feather mat.
Hannah, your little sister, marches into your tent. She’s always been the earliest riser among you. Samuel used to be more energized in the morning, but as you’ve made your way through the difficult Rocky Mountains, he’s needed more rest. Plus, instead of traveling fifteen miles a day, your wagon train has been covering only about ten to twelve miles because of the rugged and treacherous terrain.
“Ma says to hurry up,” Hannah says, her bonnet sliding halfway over her eyes as usual. “She needs you to get fuel for the fire, and Sam to milk—”
“Daisy,” Samuel mutters, cutting her off. “I know, I know. I’m coming.”
Hannah rolls her eyes at him and goes back to help Ma prepare breakfast. You don’t blame Samuel for being grumpy as he packs up his bed and carries it out of the tent. Your body longs for more rest too. But you know you don’t have that option. The wagon train will roll out in about an hour and a half, and you need to help Ma and Pa get everything ready.
Your stomach growls as you anticipate breakfast, which will probably be flapjacks and bacon . . . again. Since you’ve left Independence with a wagon led by a team of oxen piled high with everything you own, you’ve eaten more bacon than you ever dreamed was possible. Ma has been pretty creative with the few other foods you’ve carried with you for more than 1,400 miles so far: flour, cornmeal, sugar, coffee, salt, and beans. But it’s still gotten boring. Luckily, you’ve also eaten whatever you have been able to catch along the Trail, including rabbits, squirrels, deer, and buffalo, along with fruits and berries.
“I can’t wait to get to Oregon City and eat at a tavern again,” Hannah says as if she is reading your mind.
“Me too, Hannah,” you say. “If there even are any taverns.”
Your family is traveling out West to claim the land available to anyone willing to make the trip. Other emigrants like you have already made it to Oregon City and started their lives. But you don’t really know what to expect when you get there.
You’ve covered two-thirds of your trek, through prairie, desert, and now mountains. The sights along the way have been incredible, from steep cliffs to massive waterfalls to enormous rock formations, and more. And you’ve overcome a number of challenges, including dangerous river crossings, ferocious animals, and serious illnesses.
“Good morning,” Caleb says as you walk past him with an armful of brush for the campfire. Caleb has proved to be an excellent wagon captain over the journey. His son and daughter, Joseph and Eliza, have become the best friends you’ve ever had.
“Good morning,” you reply. “What’s ahead on the Trail today?”
“We are going to have a meeting after we all fuel up on breakfast,” Caleb replies. “There’s a big decision to make.”
You feel a familiar tinge of excitement, wondering what the decision will be as you hurry back to your campsite and help Ma start a big fire. As the bacon starts sizzling in the iron skillet, you grind coffee beans and make a strong brew that everyone, even Hannah, drinks. You’ve all grown accustomed to drinking coffee on the Trail and are grateful it masks some of the bad-tasting water you are forced to use along the way.
Pa fixes you a plate of flapjacks, and you sink your teeth into a thick, buttery pancake. You wish there was some syrup but are grateful for your cow Daisy’s steady supply of cream that Ma churns into butter by hanging a bucket on the side of the wagon as it bumps along the rocky terrain.
“Pa, do you know what big decision we have to make today?” you say.
“Yes. We need to choose whether or not to cross the Snake River two more times and head toward Fort Boise,” Pa starts.
“That river again!” Hannah interrupts.
You shiver, remembering the ordeal you just went through at Three Island Crossing. You had never been more terrified than when Ma fell into the water, but luckily Pa was quick to save her.
“What’s the other choice?” Samuel asks.
“We would take the South Alternate Route,” Pa explains. “It goes south of the Snake River but runs along it, so you don’t have to cross.”
“Isn’t that better, then?” Ma asks.
“I don’t know,” Pa answers. “It would take us through the Bruneau Sand Dunes. They are hot, dry, and dusty.”
Your family sits quietly and ponders the options.
“I’m afraid to cross the river again,” Ma says.
“Me too,” adds Hannah.
“I’m worried about the dry conditions of the alternate route,” Pa says. “It might be hard on the animals.”
“And I hate being thirsty,” Samuel adds, agreeing with Pa.
Everyone looks at you.
“It looks like you have to be the one to help us decide what we tell Caleb,” Pa says. “What do you think we should do?”
You consider everything carefully. Even though the river crossings are dangerous, at least you know what to expect. You’re not sure what the dunes w...