Sarah's Journey

The Story of a Little Girl Who Crossed the United States 
Pyramid Image.

Emily Popp
© Copyright 1999 by Emily Popp

It was early spring in Indiana. The flaming orange sun was just peeking over the dew-spangled fields. Spring birds were singing their morning carols, the robin's cheer up, cheer up, the cardinal's what cheer, what cheer and the thrush's pull 'em up, pull 'em up rang through the sun-lit treetops. Sarah Jones woke up, stretched, and climbed out of bed onto the cold wooden floor. She curled and uncurled her toes, then put on a soft pair of slippers. Major, her brother Sam's dog, was lying on the floor by his bed. Thump, thump, thump went his tail on the floor in a friendly greeting. Sarah bent down and patted his head.

"Good boy Major," she told him.

Sam yawned and also crawled out of his bed.

"Sarah, do you remember what today is?"

"No, what is today Sam?"

"Oh, you're silly, today we leave for the great west!"

Sarah remembered how last week the family received a telegraph from California. It was from her grandmother, who was very ill. She needed a special medicine right away. The Jones family felt that it would be best for them to travel to her with the life-saving medicine.

Oh, how Sarah would miss playing in the creek with her friends, picking wildflowers in the field, making snow forts in the winter . . . But she loved her grandmother more than any of these things.

She pulled on her calico dress her Grandma had made her. The warm reds and cool blues danced before her eyes. It smelled so clean and fresh. "It will be nice to see Grandma again," she thought happily.

As she trotted down the familiar wooden steps to the kitchen, she heard her father hitching up the team of Percheron horses, Blue and Bess. The horses were so big and strong, always plodding onward and forward, doing whatever needed done. As she pondered this thought, Sarah quickly gulped down the bowl of oatmeal her mother set in front of her.

"Did you get all of your belongings packed, Sarah?"

"Yes mother, mostly last night."

"Good. We'll be ready to go soon then."

Sarah's father picked up the three wooden chests that held their belongings and dropped them each heavily into the wagon. Her mother brought out the folded quilts and blankets they would need on the journey.

"How long will this trip take, Father?" asked Sam anxiously.

"It depends on the weather and condition of the trail. Could be a few months, could be a year."

"Well I don't know about you, but I hope it doesn't take too long!" Sarah laughed.

Her father jogged up to the old barn and returned with eight crates full of squawking chickens and ducks.

"Can't forget these," he said, stacking them in the back of the wagon. Barnyard fowl were very important on such trips, they gave the family both meat and eggs.

Sam whistled for Major, and the dog came running at full speed from behind the barn. Sam tousled his floppy ears and told him to go to the wagon.

"Father, have you forgotten about the cow and pigs?" asked Sam.

"Oh yes! We can't forget them! Ill need your help."

As Sam and father retrieved the animals and tied them to the back of the wagon, she remembered one more thing -- her cat Tiger!

"Oh Mother! We can't leave Tiger behind!"

"I'm sorry dear, but we just can't take a cat along. He would never be happy having to stay in the wagon. Why don't you take him over to Bethany's house. I'm sure he'd like it there."

Tearfully, Sarah agreed. She gently picked up the purring cat and walked down the familiar pine-lined path to her friends house. When she got there, Bethany answered the door. Sarah handed Bethany the cat and explained why she could not bring him. Bethany understood, and gently took the cat from Sarah's arms. She gave her two best friends a final hug and quickly ran down the path.

"Are we ready to go now Father?" asked Sam.

"Yes, we're on our way!"

Father chucked to the team, and they started in a quick walk. Sarah turned with tears in her eyes and watched the empty house get smaller and smaller as they drove away.

The ride was bumpy, and Sarah kept getting jostled around. Once a crate of chickens toppled over and landed right in her lap.

After driving for several hours, it was time to stop and rest. They halted near a bubbling creek. First they all sat down in the soft grass, then Mother checked the padded box the medicine was kept in. All seemed fine. The children ran down and put their dry feet in the cool, refreshing water. The family ate lunch, and were off again.

By nightfall they had traveled through half of Indiana. Blue and Bess were getting tired so the Jones' decided to stop and rest for the night. It rained, and they had to sleep under the wagon because the muslin top of the wagon leaked. Father said the drops were so big they could have drowned a sleeping mule. The children smiled at this remark, then laid back down to go to sleep. Mother put the medicine under a crate with a board over it so it would not get wet.

The rest of the week went very well. The family traveled through Illinois all the way to the edge of Missouri. They saw deer, bear, rabbits, wolves, squirrels, and the like. Major even caught a pheasant. Sarah marveled at the beautiful, shiny feathers of the bird, and ran her hand down the long striped tail plumes. Mother plucked it and they had it for dinner on Sunday. Sarah begged to keep the feathers and Mother permitted her to. She carefully placed them in a little drawstring pouch her brother gave her.

By mid-July their trip took a turn for the worse. They had to cross the Missouri River. Their wagon capsized and they lost one of the pigs and a whole crate of chickens. Sam swam through the muddy water in search of them, but to no avail. In Kansas a dust storm blackened the sky. Both the family and the livestock were choked by the thick cloud. They were delayed for a whole week. Luckily they were able to stop in Topeka and get inside an inn before the dust was too thick to breathe. Sarah sent a telegraph to Bethany, and her mother sent one to Grandma.

Dearest friend Bethany,
I miss you so much. We have braved dust storms, animals, rivers& many hardships, but we are still pushing on. Soon we will reach Kansas. I can hardly wait to see dear Grandma. As you know we are bringing her medicine to, God willing, save her life. Take good care of Tiger and give him a hug and a kiss from me.
Yours Truly,
Sarah Jones

While heading through Kansas Major ran into the woods and got attacked by a bear. He came back limping and whining with lots of cuts and scratches. Mother treated the wounds with antiseptic and bandaged them. The whole incident set them back another two days while the ailing dog recovered. Sam was afraid Major would not survive, but he grew stronger and stronger each day, and finally was able to move about normally.

Later, Sarah had a fever, which greatly worried the rest of her family. But after cool water and rest she was ready to get back on the trail. They later found out that it was the flu.

In Colorado all went smoothly until they reached the Rocky Mountain Range. They had a hard time getting through the mountains. At the bottom of the mountain Father was able to buy a team of twelve oxen so they could make it up the last steep peak. With the help of the new oxen and a chain, they were soon at the top. The view was spectacular! Pine trees covered the valley below. Sarah could see deer appearing as tiny as ants browsing in a clearing.

"Oh Mother, it's beautiful!" shouted Sarah.

"That it is, Sarah, that it is." Her mother replied wistfully.

Sam could not wait to get into the forest. He hollered for Major and the pair practically flew down the mountainside. Major barked in pure exultation. But when they reached the edge of the forest, they stopped.

"What's wrong?" Father shouted down,

"I-it says we can't go any further!" Sam stammered disappointedly.

"It can't be . . ."

But it was. A glaring sign hung on every other tree, stating in big red letters:


As if to more firmly enforce this harsh statement, dangerous-looking barbed wire was strung tightly along the facing trees.

"Oh no! What will we do now?" inquired Mother as she glanced back at the forbidding peak.

"Well . . . we have to get through,"

Next Sarah's father said something she would never expect from him . . .

"Sam, go get me the wire cutters!"

"But Father," Sarah cried, "must we do that?"

"Extreme situations require extreme measures, Sarah dear," he replied.

The rest of the family watched as Father gingerly cut through the offending metal. As soon as he cut through the second strand, Major leaped over the remaining fence in pursuit of a rabbit.

"Major! Come back here!" shouted Sam, and tried to crawl over the fence.

"No. Just wait," Father grabbed Sam by the back of his shirt, "He'll come back soon enough."

But Major did not come back until the next day. He was tired and badly scratched up. Again, "Mother the Nurse" had to stitch him up.

"All right, that dog is getting into enough trouble. Tomorrow he will be tied to the back of the wagon with the cow and pig, Sam," Father said sternly.

"But . . ." Sam started,

"And that's final! He'll just have to learn to behave like a good dog," replied Father.

The dog sulked under the wagon and chewed on the rabbit he caught.

"Shouldn't we re-attach the fence we cut?" Mother asked,

"I think that is a good idea," Father replied, smiling.

He walked over to the broken fence, took the bent wires in his hand, and twisted them back onto the post.

"There. That's done. Now are we ready to move on again?"

"Yes sir!" Sam shouted back.

"Then we're off!"

In the next week they left Colorado and entered Utah, which was very hot and dry. The little water there they could find was usually alkali. The family was almost out of vegetables, so Sarah and Mother had to go search for some. They found wild strawberries and pokeweed shoots.

"These will do, I suppose," said mother.

Later Sarah found blackberries. She ate most of them before she could get back to her mother.

"Oops," she mumbled, her mouth full of the sweet fruits. "Sorry Mother."

Her mother chuckled at the funny sight,

"That's O.K. dear."

When they got back to the wagon, Father had something in an empty poultry crate.

"What do you have father?" asked Sarah,

"Do you remember the rabbit that Major killed . . ."

He needed to say no more. Sarah jumped up and down and squealed,

"Oh father, are they baby rabbits?"

"Yes," he smiled "You may take care of them until they get too big. There are four of them."

Sarah gently picked one up out of the crate. It was so tiny! She nuzzled the soft fur with her cheek.

"You'll have to feed them every two hours. I hope it's not too much to work for you to do. After all, we're awfully busy on this trip."

"No, Father! I can do it."

So the crate of baby bunnies took it's place in the wagon. As she said she would, Sarah fed the bunnies constantly. It was hard work, but she wanted to see her pets grow big and strong. They grew sleek and fat. Soon they were full grown.

They traveled for a few more weeks, stopping occasionally to rest and bathe.

When they reached the border of California her father said,

"Sarah, I think it is time for the rabbits to go back to the wild where they belong."

Even though she loved her little pets, she was old enough to know that if you love something very much, you need to let it go to where it really wants to be. So that Saturday, in the green forest of California, she took the rabbits to a clearing and let them free.

At first they sat motionless and looked at her with their big brown eyes. Tears welled up in Sarahs own eyes.

"Go on, you're free. Go live as wild rabbits."

One by one they gradually hopped into the dappled sunlight of the forest.

"Goodbye," she told them, "I'll always love you."

When she got back to the wagon she smeared at her eyes with the sleeve of her dress so that her father would not see her crying.

They started off again, towards the orange California sunset.

That night all Sarah could think about were her dear pet rabbits. She wondered if they could survive alone in the forest, with all the dangers and hazards of nature.

Soon they reached the little town where Grandma lived. Her house was not unlike the houses in the Eastern back-woods. She had a little garden, and a few trees growing in the back. Much to the children's delight, she had a small brown pony tied to the back of her little shed.

Grandma was still laying in bed when they arrived. The doctor was summoned, and he received the medicine eagerly. The Jones family walked slowly through the house, looking at all of Grandma's beautiful things. As they approached the bed, Grandma sat up and greeted them, then gave them each a hug.

"I don't know how to thank you all," she said with tears in her eyes. She hugged them all again. The doctor then sent them out to the backyard and told them that Grandma would be out to see them in a few minutes.

In the backyard, Mother and Father sat down on a wooden bench, while the children ran over to the pony. She looked at them sleepily, then went back to munching oats from a bucket in front of her. Sam petted her soft, velvety nose, while Sarah began to braid her forelock.

Grandma soon made her way outside, with the help of Father and the doctor. She sat down on the bench next to Mother and rested for a moment.

She called for Sam and Sarah, told them to sit down next to her, and held each of their hands. She told them the pony's name was Lady, and that she was very old but still gentle. She then turned to Sarah's father and asked him if it was all right for the children to keep Lady. Sarah and Sam looked wide-eyed at each other and then gave grandma a big hug.

Father consented, and the children ran over to their new pet to get to know her better.

Sam hopped onto Lady's back and began to ride her about the yard, much to the amusement of the adults.

As the day with Grandma drew to an end, the family gave her a hug and kiss, and were ready to rest. They stayed in Grandmother's house to watch over her for the next three months. Sarah observed happily as Grandmother slowly recovered. She consented that the family could build a home on the back of her large piece of land.

In September of 1865, the family founded their new homestead. Father cut down trees to clear a space for their cabin, barn, and chicken coop. Sam and Major explored the new territory, and Sarah and her mother staked out the new garden.

Blue, Bess, and Lady lived happily in their new barn, as did the sow. Sarah got a new calico cat, named Callie, who she loved dearly.

The new house was made of logs. It had a stone fireplace and front steps. Of course it was not the same as their old house, but it was cozy and warm.

Gradually Sarah made new friends, who went on pony rides and swam in the creek together. They had lots of fun, but Sarah still missed Bethany.

Her mother consented that Sarah could write a telegraph to Bethany.

My Dear Bethany,
We have reached California! It is more beautiful than I had before imagined. There are lots of mountains -- and mammoth trees called Redwoods. The hollowed-out trunks are so big that you can drive a wagon through them! Grandma is doing very well. She is almost strong enough to walk on her own without Father's help. I recently got a new cat named Callie, and a pony from Grandma! Her name is Lady. She is chestnut colored with a jet black mane and tail. I hope and pray that you and Tiger are doing well. Please write back to me as soon as your mother permits.
Yours Truly,
Sarah Jones

The Jones family lived for many happy years on the warm plains of California.

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