Where the Trail Ends
"A lovely, well-paced novel with enchanting characters and surprising plot twists. This is not your typical Oregon Trail story—there is more love than loss and more hope than grief on this wagon train west. Melanie Dobson gives her readers the delight of what happens after people arrived in the Oregon Territory, with the assurance that the end of the trail is really not the end after all."—Jane Kirkpatrick, bestselling author of All Together in One Place
"… this book will have readers feeling like they are part of the harrowing wagon train heading west on an exciting, amazing journey that they won't want
to end." —RT Book Review
to end." —RT Book Review
A young woman traveling the Oregon Trail in 1842 must rely on a stranger to bring her to safety. But whom can she trust with her heart?
For two thousand miles along the trail to Oregon Country, Samantha Waldron and her family must overcome tremendous challenges to reach the Willamette Valley before winter. But when their canoe capsizes on the Columbia River, they must rely on handsome British exporter Alexander Clarke to rescue them from the icy water. Samantha is overwhelmed with men vying for her affections at Fort Vancouver, but the only one who intrigues her—Alex—is the one she cannot have.
Melanie Dobson is the award-winning author of twelve novels. She recently won ACFW Carol Awards for Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa and The Silent Order, and in 2010, Love Finds You in Liberty, Indiana was chosen as the Best Book of Indiana (fiction). Born and raised in the Midwest, she has lived all over America and now resides with her husband and two daughters near Portland, Oregon. Where the Trail Ends is her first novel set in Oregon, and she and her daughters had fun exploring the Oregon Trail together as she researched for this novel. Approximately three hundred thousand Americans traveled West on the Oregon Trail. About thirty thousand of them lost their lives to accidents, drowning, and cholera—one grave, it is said, for every eighty yards of the trail.
Where the Trail Ends is available at www.christianbook.com,
Where the Trail Ends
Excerpt from Chapter One
"Come on," Samantha whispered.
On past river crossings, their company had waited for hours until one of their gentle but often stubborn oxen decided to move forward. They couldn't afford to wait here for hours—it would be dark soon, and they needed to set up their camp and cook supper while it was still light. If their oxen wouldn't budge, the thirty-two people already on shore would have to continue on and circle up for camp without them. The Waldrons would catch up once the oxen decided to move.
Boaz nipped at the hindquarters of the nigh ox, George, and he bellowed, stepping forward with Abe, the ox yoked beside him. Then they stopped again.
Jack rode back into the river, steering his horse toward their raft. Samantha couldn't see his dark brown hair under his wide-brimmed hat, but she could see the focus in his face, the strength of his arms as he guided his horse.
When he glanced over at her, she blushed.
Micah elbowed her. "Someone's sweet on you."
"Hush," she whispered.
"Papa says you're going to marry him."
She elbowed him back. "I told you to hush."
Micah tipped his hat low over his shaggy hair, but she could still see the grin on his face. Jack whipped the oxen, yelling at them to move.
Samantha winced every time the whip hit their backs. She knew it was necessary to prod them forward—an ox refused to be led—but she hated seeing any animal in pain, especially these oxen that had pulled almost two tons of weight for more than a thousand miles.
Mama believed in angels—the fiery messengers mentioned in the book of Hebrews who were sent to care for those on the road to salvation. Mama would have asked God to send these angels to help both the oxen and the men, so Samantha did as well, quietly asking God to send help in nudging the oxen forward.
The two men continued shouting, goading with their whips and sticks, but the oxen fought them, almost as if they were afraid of dangers on the other side of this river. More men joined them, trying to coax the animals to move.
Samantha breathed with relief when the oxen stepped again, heaving as they moved toward the shore. She'd spent much of this trip holding her breath, not knowing what might happen next, but with Papa and Jack and perhaps a host of angels at the helm, they would make it safely to the end of this journey.
The wagon shook, the hitch chain clanking, as the oxen tugged again. This time they didn't stop pulling until they reached the other side.
Micah hopped off the wagon with a loud cheer and waded beside Boaz through the shallow water and up the bank. Before she jumped to the ground, Samantha slipped off her moccasins and dropped them into her apron pocket. Jack dismounted, and she took his proffered hand, thanking him as she slid off the bench.
She tried to focus, dipping her feet into the blessed coolness of the river before wading to shore. "I think our oxen are afraid of you."
He laughed. "Not me as much as my stick." "They certainly obeyed you." He helped her climb up the muddy bank. "We had a dozen oxen back home."
She glanced over at him. "You miss your farm, don't you?"
"It was my parents' farm, not mine. And no, I don't miss it."
She stepped onto the land and turned toward him. "But you miss your family."
He released her hand with a slight bow of his head. "Very much."
She wished they had hours to linger, talk. But Jack moved away quickly, back among the company of the other men as they prodded the Waldrons' oxen forward again. Their wagon clamored, the contents banging, as the oxen heaved it up the bank.
Boaz rushed down to her, like he was needed to escort her now that Jack had gone, and she bent to pet him before they joined more than a dozen women, four children, and a swarm of animals on the flat land.
"Get that dog out of here," the captain barked behind her.
She turned around, glaring at the man down the bank. She wished Boaz would bark back.
"We're going," she said, but she didn't think he heard, as he ordered the men to stock up with water. Even after five months on this journey, she didn't believe the captain knew the name of her dog...or even Samantha's first name, for that matter. She supposed she should be glad he was keenly focused on the details of the journey rather than the names of the people and their pets, but he could at least try to be polite.
Lucille McLean waved, but Samantha thought she saw a trace of jealousy behind her friend's smile. She waved back, trying to shrug off the feeling that she'd done something wrong. It wasn't like she'd asked Jack Doyle for help off the wagon. The man did make her heart flutter a bit, but she hadn't determined whether she liked the fluttering, nor had she confided her conflicting feelings to Lucille. Her friend was convinced that she would be changing her name to Lucille Doyle when they reached the end of their journey.
Lucille lifted the muddy hem of her skirt, but not a single strand of blond hair escaped her pink bonnet as she moved toward Samantha. "I'll be perfectly fine if I never have to cross another river again."
Samantha grinned. "You didn't enjoy the ride?"
"Hardly." Lucille nodded toward the Waldrons' wagon as it emerged on the hill. "Did you fill your barrel with water?"
She shook her head. "Papa will fill it."
Oxen and dogs milled around the people and the contents from the wagons scattered among the sagebrush. After boxes and barrels were jostled in the river crossing, most of the emigrants wanted to repack their loads before they continued.
"I need to fill my canteen," Gerty Morrison said, holding out her two-year-old daughter to Lucille. Lucille welcomed the child into her arms.
As Gerty climbed into the back of her family's emptied wagon, wind stole over the river, rustling the canvas bonnets on the wagons. Colt barked, and Mrs. Kneedler hushed him.
Samantha scanned the barren hills around them, but she didn't see anything unusual. Several companies of Indians had followed them along their journey—curious, she supposed, about the white men and women who traveled through their lands. The captain had traded shirts and fishhooks for food, and one of the Indians had tried to barter with Papa to exchange Samantha for three horses. Fortunately, Papa declined.
Two more dogs began barking, and then one growled. Her skin prickled. If the dogs had spotted a rabbit or a prairie dog, one of them would have chased it down by now.
Something else was wrong.
Samantha didn't know exactly what happened next, but Colt charged at an ox as if it were a wolf or bear.
"No!" Mr. Kneedler shouted, chasing after his dog, but it was too late.
The ox lumbered forward, no one to guide him. And then another ox followed.
Dust billowed into a maddening cloud and Samantha waved her hands in front of her face, trying to see. The oxen bellowed in unison as a thundering sound rippled across the company.
"Stampede!" someone yelled.
People scattered as the oxen pushed toward the hills. Clods of dirt flew off the ground; bows cracked as oxen broke loose of their yokes.
She couldn't see. Couldn't breathe.
All the dogs were barking now, and the oxen harnessed to the Morrisons' wagon took off after the others. Gerty screamed, and through the dust, Samantha saw Gerty peeking out of the back flap as though trying to determine whether she should jump.
Men ran toward the oxen. Lucille and the other women ran away from the wagons, their screams echoing in Samantha's ears.
Samantha ran toward her father.
"Steady," she heard Papa say as he clung to the oxbow on the lead team, his voice a controlled calm in the midst of the chaos.
"Where's Micah?" she shouted.
"Hold on to them!" Papa yelled. She reached for the bow on the other side, trying to anchor the large animals to the ground.
A child cried out from the storm of dust, and she turned around, searching for her brother. "I have to find Micah!"
"Steady," Papa said again before he looked across at her. "Go, Samantha."
A horse raced past her, and she jumped back, coughing as she scanned the chaos. She glimpsed her brother's blond hair close to a rock, but then he was gone.
"Micah!" she yelled as she tore through the confusion. God help all of them.
© Melanie Dobson, 2012