Jumping Off! I’m Launching a Website — Theresa Hupp, Author

When the pioneers to Oregon left the settled territories for the West, they said they were “jumping off.” Communities like Independence and St. Joseph, Missouri, were known as “jumping off places.” It was from these last bastions of civilization that the emigrants headed into the unknown, into a land of both promise and hardship.I feel like I’m jumping off as I launch this new website after blogging at Story & History on WordPress.com for five years. For the last year or so, I have wanted to provide readers with more information on my life, my writing, and my books than what I have included on my blog, and so I set as one of my 2017 goals to launch my own website.

So I am proud to announce the launch of this self-hosted website, Theresa Hupp, Author — https://theresahuppauthor.com

It has been a blessing to me to make connections with friends and readers on Story & History, and I hope subscribers to that blog will take a look at this new site and continue to follow me. I want to continue to post about “One writer’s journey through life and time”—the tagline for my blog, and my continuing mission for the website.

All my earlier posts have been moved here from Story & History. I will be working with WordPress to migrate subscribers from Story & History on WordPress.com to this site, which should happen over the next few days. I hope the transition will be seamless to you (except for the look of the new site), but I’ve never done this before, so I cannot guarantee perfection.

Of course, if you do not wish to continue on this site, feel free to unsubscribe.

When you do look through the pages on Theresa Hupp, Author, if you notice any links that aren’t working or other errors, please let me know through the “Contact Me” page. And if there is information you would like me to include on the site, please let me know that also. I want what I post to be helpful to readers, as well as a place to hang out with friends.

I have loved getting to know people through blogging. Readers of Story & History have been a kind and generous community, and I hope my connections with you continue to grow.

My thanks to those of you who have followed me on WordPress.com for the past five years . . .

And I hope you will jump off with me to Theresa Hupp, Author!

How Were Wagon Companies to the Oregon Territory Formed?


Wagon train photo, late 19th century (public domain)

I’m writing another book about the emigrants to Oregon in 1847 who traveled in the wagon company I created for Lead Me Home. The protagonists in Lead Me Home came from Boston, Massachusetts, and Arrow Rock, Missouri. And the doctor and his wife were from Illinois. The wagon company was formed in Independence, Missouri—a well-known “jumping off ” point for the Oregon Trail.

My current work-in-progress deals with one family from St. Charles, Missouri, and another family that farmed in Tennessee (so far, I haven’t specified where in Tennessee).

How likely was it that this wagon company would have attracted members from across the United States, as it existed at the time? It’s certainly possible. The real 1848 wagon company that took my Hooker ancestors to Oregon had members from several different counties in Missouri and Illinois.

Wagon captains used many methods to form their companies. Some were made up of neighbors wanting opportunities in the West, so the people all knew each other. Others—like my fictional company—were recruited at a jumping off point or elsewhere. Moreover, the wagon trains were frequently reorganized along the way. As the Oregon Pioneers website, compiled by Stephenie Flora and Nancy Prevost, states:

“The wagon trains of 1847 were in constant transition. Wagons left one train and joined another. Trains joined together, split, and then joined a different train. Each time there was a split another Capt. took over the wagons that split off.”

For example, one train in 1847, initially led by Captain John Bewley, had the following changes:

“Left Independence, MO on May 7, 1847. . . . joined later with the Cornlius Smith train that had left from St. Joseph, MO . . . . Capt. Bewley was elected the permanent Captain after a shakedown period of several days. . . . This train appears to have joined up at some point with the rear company of the Oskaloosa split led by Capt. Kees.”

And two more 1847 examples:

“Capt. Jordan Sawyer . . . left from St. Joseph, MO; party consisted of 27 wagons . . . , making 35 able-bodied men accompanied by their wives and children. . . . At some point this train may have linked with that of Capt. William Vaughn . . . .”

. . .

“Capt. Joel Palmer recruited a large number of people to join his company in 1847. It is believed he had 85 wagons and then was later joined by the Chicago Company led by Thomas Cox that added an additional 14 wagons.”

Thus, the reorganization of two companies after the Kaw River crossing that I depict in Lead Me Home is based on the types of leadership changes that really occurred. And the later splits in the company and change of captains (you’ll have to read the book to find out what happened and why) were also plausible historically.

The sizes of the wagon companies varied quite a bit—from about fifteen wagons to over 100. So my fictional company of about twenty to twenty-five wagons (after it reorganized) was on the smaller side, but definitely within the normal range. Even so, I didn’t name all the people who were traveling to Oregon with the wagon train in Lead Me Home, only the families who were characters in the novel. (And readers still tell me they can’t keep all the names straight! Well, one family had eight children, and I couldn’t leave any of them out.)

Some of the issues that I loved exploring as I wrote Lead Me Home—and that I am enjoying as I write my current work-in-progress—were the management of the wagon train and the impact of personality conflicts among the emigrants. The strength of company leaders and the ability of everyone in the company to get along made huge differences in their cohesion and in how successfully they dealt with the hardships they faced.

Any time a group of people is thrown together, these interpersonal issues become critical—whether it is 1847 or 2017. I was able to use personality types I’ve encountered in our times to create the Lead Me Home plot in the 19th century. And these same fictional characters are now letting me write yet another perspective of the same events in my work-in-progress.

When have you seen strangers work together for mutual benefit or argue to their mutual detriment?

Provisioning for the Journey West

Independence Courthouse1850, from the Independence city website

Independence Courthouse1850, from the Independence city website

Emigrants preparing for the move to Oregon had plan carefully what they would take. They had to balance the amount of food and other supplies they needed for the journey, what they could afford to buy, the weight their wagon and teams could pull, and what mementoes and tools they would need to build a new life in the West.

Some of us remember the computer game Oregon Trail, where one of the first tasks in the game was to buy provisions. In the version I played, we could choose which of three income levels we wanted to be – wealthy (able to buy plenty of food and oxen), middle income (able to buy enough, but no extras), or poor (needing to live off the land when food ran out).

The game was realistic in this regard – emigrants came from all strata of society. But most of the emigrants were middle-class or poor. Most sold everything they had to supply themselves for the trip, and most did not expect to ever return to their former homes.

Of course, in the game, as in life, there was no guarantee that you wouldn’t lose everything in a flood, die of disease, or find meat when you hunted. Even the wealthy could suffer deprivation.

There were many checklists available for the pioneers to use in preparing for their journey, just as there are camping checklists today. With respect to food, an early list, from 1843, recommended that a wagon hold 1100 pounds of flour, 300 pounds of bacon, 100 pounds of sugar, 100 pounds of dried apples, 50 pounds of coffee, 50 pounds of salt, keg of syrup, keg of tar. See The Oregon Trail, by Ingvard Henry Eide, p. 53. Another list said that a family of four needed 824 lbs flour, 725 lbs bacon, 75 lbs coffee, 160 lbs sugar, 200 lbs lard and suet, 200 lbs beans, 135 lbs peaches and apples, salt, pepper, and bicarbonate of soda. See Traveling the Oregon Trail, by Julie Fanselow, p. 3. And yet another list travelers needed 200 pounds of flour per person, 100 pounds of bacon per person, corn meal, dried apples & peaches, beans, salt, pepper, rice, tea, coffee, and sugar. See Eide, p. 36.

That was just the food. In addition, the emigrants needed pots and pans; powder, lead and flint for their guns; bedding and clothing. And tools to repair the wagons. One list of tools included augers, gimlet (what is a gimlet?), ax, hammer, hoe, plow, shovel, spade, whetstone, oxbows, axles, kingbolts, linchpins, oxshoes, spokes, wagon tongue, heavy ropes, and chains. See Pioneers, by Huston Horn (a Time-Life book), p. 102-03.

Many emigrants bought these provisions at their homes in Illinois or Indiana, or whatever “civilized” state they came from. Others took steamships up the Missouri River, and bought their supplies at a “jumping off” point on the border in Missouri or Iowa. Merchants from St. Louis to Omaha did a booming business in the 1840s and 1850s outfitting emigrants.

Crossing Great Salt Lake 1859

Crossing Great Salt Lake Desert 1859

In addition to supplies for the journey, emigrants wanted to remind themselves of home. There are stories of armoires and tables, rocking chairs and mirrors making it across the mountains. But many of these keepsakes, which travelers had loaded into the wagons along with their hopes and dreams of a better life, were abandoned or destroyed as the trail grew steep and narrow, as oxen and mules died, and as wood from the furniture was needed for fuel or coffins.

The travelers may have started by balancing their survival needs with their financial resources and desire for reminders of home and family, but in the end, survival was all that mattered.

Jumping Off to the Unknown

Part of my horoscope on my birthday this year read “Develop a way of handling the unexpected, as it will become a regular occurrence for you.”

But isn’t this true for everyone? The unexpected becomes expected, because change comes to all of us. Sometimes we seek the change, other times it is foisted upon us. But at some point, we all jump into the abyss of the unknown.

The pioneers called leaving the States for Oregon “jumping off.” Their jumping off points were typically Independence or St. Joseph, Missouri, where they left civilization as they knew it and headed into the unknown.

Most emigrants jumped off around mid-April. At this time of year, these frontier towns teemed with people and wagons and livestock. Prices surged as high as spring floods as families sought to provision themselves for the arduous journey ahead. Imagine the bustle and excitement of thousands of strangers converging on muddy streets and splintered boardwalks.

For those of us who live in the Midwest, think of the weather this time of year. Last Saturday we had thunderstorms and hail and more than 120 tornadoes across a wide swatch of what used to be the open prairie. Some years there are late snow storms in April.

Would you want to head out across the prairie with only a canvas wagon cover between you and the elements? The covers could get blown off by wind and shredded by hail. There were no warning sirens or National Weather Service to give notice.

Most of the emigrants walked, rather than riding in the wagon, to spare the mules or oxen. Would you want to walk through wet or snowy spring grasses? Wade across swollen spring creeks? Search for firewood dry enough to cook your meals?

The unknown will hit all of us. Some of our rigors are physical, some are mental or spiritual. What challenges can you anticipate? And how can you prepare yourself for the unexpected?

Two Ends of the Trail

I’ve lived at both ends of the Oregon Trail.  I grew up in eastern Washington State, near the site of the Whitman Mission.  The story of the Whitman Massacre was part of my childhood.  I now live in Kansas City, Missouri, near Independence — one of the main jumping off points for the Oregon Trail.

I’ve always been fascinated by the courage of the emigrants to the West.  How many of us would be brave enough to travel 2000 miles from civilization, knowing that we would never see our loved ones again? 

I’ve been working on two novels related to this period in our nation’s history.  Periodically, I’ll post information on this blog about my progress, and tell you about the progress of my characters along the Trail.