Elizabeth Markham: One Woman’s Perspective on the Oregon Trail and on Matrimony

I am surprised that in five years of writing this blog I have never written a post focused on women’s perspectives on leaving their homes and journeying west on the Oregon Trail. I’ve written about specific women—Narcissa Whitman, Jessie Benton Fremont, Elizabeth Dixon Smith, Keturah Belknap, and others—and quoted some of their words, but I’ve never focused on how they felt about making the trek in the first place.

I’ve thought about this theme a lot, first as I researched and wrote Lead Me Home, and now as I’m writing another novel about other characters in that same wagon company. For the most part, the women did not want to leave home. They only went because their husbands or fathers insisted.

In my current work-in-progress, one woman is pregnant with her ninth child. She left her family’s farm in Missouri to follow her husband’s wanderlust. This woman’s teenage daughter mourns the loss of the friends she left behind. Another woman in the wagon company is accompanying her bully of a husband, who believes he’ll have a better life—while her life is likely to be harder in Oregon. Another character who lost all her children in Illinois left their graves behind her forever.

On and on the women’s stories go. Each mourns people and places they will never see again.

Abert Beirstadt, Oregon Trail

And on the journey, they cooked over campfires instead of in brick ovens. Their meals were made with limited provisions and what they could glean along the trail. They washed with river water almost as muddy as the clothes, unless it was left to sit and settle. Their family members suffered illnesses such as cholera or yellow fever or pneumonia. Or they were injured in wagon or gun accidents. Or they drowned or were snakebit or suffered some other calamity.

No wonder the women viewed the land so harshly. No wonder some of them went mad.

Elizabeth Markham was one such woman. On September 15, 1847, as they traveled along the Snake River (see the photo of Shoshone Falls on the Snake at the top of this post), Elizabeth told her husband Samuel she would not go on any farther. After some argument, Samuel took their five children and their wagons and left her behind. Later in the day, he sent their son John back to get his mother. Hours later, Elizabeth caught up to the wagon—alone. She said she had beaten John to death with a rock. Her husband went back for the boy. Stories vary as to whether John had been injured or not, but he lived. Samuel brought his son back to the rest of the family, only to find that Elizabeth had burned one of the wagons.

The rest of the story is that the Markhams’ traveling companions put out the fire, and the family did reach Oregon. They later had two more children. Their youngest child, Edwin Markham, became an acclaimed poet. The Markhams ran a store in Oregon City, but Samuel and Elizabeth later divorced, and Samuel set out for California alone. Elizabeth also later moved to California, remarried, and was divorced again.

Like her youngest son, Elizabeth was also a poet—the first published woman poet in Oregon. She had a poem published in the Oregon Spectator on June 15, 1948, less than a year after her episode on the Snake River. It reads:

A Contrast in Matrimony

The man must lead a happy life,
Free from matrimonial chains,
Who is directed by a wife
Is sure to suffer for his pains.

Adam could find no solid peace,
When Eve was given for a mate,
Until he saw a woman’s face
Adam was in a happy state.

In all the female face, appear
Hypocrisy, deceit, and pride;
Truth, darling of a heart sincere,
Ne’er known in woman to reside.

What tongue is able to unfold
The falsehoods that in woman dwell;
The worth in woman we behold,
Is almost imperceptible.

Cursed be the foolish man, I say,
Who changes from his singleness;
Who will not yield to woman’s sway,
Is sure of perfect blessedness.

Her note at the bottom of this poem in the newspaper read: “To advocate the ladies’ cause, you will read the first and third, second and fourth lines together.”

[Try it . . . The first stanza then reads:

The man must lead a happy life,
Who is directed by a wife
Free from matrimonial chains,
Is sure to suffer for his pains.]

This isn’t great poetry, but I have to marvel at the way she crafted two poems in one. And I have to wonder what Elizabeth was thinking as she wrote this multi-faceted poem—to which view of marriage did she subscribe? After her experiences on the Oregon Trail, did she think man better off with a wife or not? Given that both her marriages ended in divorce—still uncommon during her lifetime—I conclude she was fairly sour on the institution of matrimony.

What do you think of Elizabeth Markham’s poem?

Why Did the Emigrants Head West? For Prosperity, Health, or “Manifest Destiny”?

Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (mural study, U.S. Capitol, by Emanuel Leutze)

I decided to write about the Oregon Trail in part because the concept of leaving home for an unknown wilderness so far away is such an alien concept to me. I’ve moved across the country on a few occasions, but I don’t like spending time in the wilderness.

Why did the emigrants choose to leave? I wanted to know. What made them pack what they could in a wagon and leave family and friends behind?

As I researched, I discovered that the reasons were as varied as why we move from state to state or leave one job to take another.

Most pioneers left for economic opportunity. They could own more land—free land—in the West than they had in the settled territories.

Some left for health reasons. Plagues of cholera and smallpox and other illnesses struck the East Coast regularly. The open land was considered healthier. Of course, it wasn’t long before diseases followed the people.

Some went for patriotic reasons. Americans wanted to drive the British out of the Pacific Northwest and the Mexicans out of California.

“Manifest destiny” was a phrase coined by John L. O’Sullivan in an article titled “Annexation” in the July-August 1845 edition of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review. In this article, Mr. O’Sullivan argued that the U.S. should annex Texas, writing:

“other nations have undertaken to intrude themselves . . . in a spirit of hostile interference against us, for the avowed object of thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”

And he went on to point the finger specifically at England and France.

Zeal for “manifest destiny” became the prevailing sentiment of most Americans—the United States should extend unbroken from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This attitude led not only to settling the West, but also to ill-treatment of Native Americans, as well as to war with Mexico and conflicts with Great Britain.

Regardless of their rationales, all types of people emigrated to the West. Most were hard-working and sensible—farmers and tradesmen who intended to work for prosperity they hoped to find in the new land. These families were probably less motivated by politics than by prosperity.

But there were also those who left home unprepared for the hardships of the journey. Some families brought their sick and elderly, unwilling to be parted. Others came who had lived in luxury in the East and knew nothing about fending for themselves.

And there were the troublemakers one finds in every crowd. I created one such troublemaker—Samuel Abercrombie—in Lead Me Home, and this character reappears in Now I’m Found and in my current work-in-progress about this same wagon company. I have to admit, writing scenes with Samuel in them are the most fun!

The migration to the West is a reminder that we are a diverse people, with varied motives and abilities. It takes all kinds to settle a nation and to populate a novel. Though conflict, in my opinion, is more enjoyable on the page than in real life.

Do you know why your ancestors came to the United States?

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-public-domain

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?

Back to Square One: My New Work in Progress and Scrivener

NIF front cover 9-2-16After I published Now I’m Found in late September 2016, I found myself at loose ends with my writing. I still had to draft regular posts for this blog and for another blog I author, but for the first time in ten years, I didn’t have a novel that I was in the process of writing.

On each of the three novels I’ve published (the two historical fiction I’ve written under my own name and the contemporary thriller I wrote under a pseudonym), I wrote a draft, put it aside, started another book, put it aside, went back to an earlier book for another edit . . . and the cycle continued until each book felt ready to publish. And finally, all three novels were published.

I learned as I went—how to craft a story arc, how to deepen emotions through dialogue, internal monologues, and even descriptions of the setting, how to foreshadow later developments in the plot. I also learned about self-publishing—how to format both print-on-demand paperbacks and e-books.

But as of October 2016, I was back to square one. A blank page.

I decided to write another book about the Oregon Trail. In fact, I am using some of the minor characters from Lead Me Home as the protagonists in this novel. Mac and Jenny, the protagonists in the earlier two historical novels, are the minor characters in this new story.

This work-in-progress is both easy and difficult. It’s easy, because I know the timeline—the overall plot was set in Lead Me Home, though the focus in this story is much different. And I’ve done most of the historical research that I need for this novel. For the most part, I’m having fun confronting the blank page—I know where I’m going, even if my characters don’t.

But I am seeing the trek to Oregon through an entirely different lens. Actually, I’m seeing it through six lenses. I have (at the moment—this might change) six point-of-view characters. In Lead Me Home, Mac and Jenny were the only POV characters, so this new story is more complicated. Who should have the POV in each scene? Do I have to rotate consistently? Have I forgotten to let one of them have a voice? I’m still working on the answers to these questions, but I had many POV characters in my thriller, so I have some experience with the technique.

scrivener-logoI am also trying to work almost entirely in Scrivener. I’ve drafted my blogs in Scrivener for over two years now, and I used Scrivener to convert Lead Me Home and Now I’m Found into MOBI and EPUB formats for e-books. I know the basics of the program. But I am determined to learn more about Scrivener’s capabilities as I write this new work-in-progress—that’s part of my motivation in taking on a project that doesn’t require a lot of new research.

I want to do a better job of outlining my story arc in this book, rather than having to sculpt the story into an arc after I’ve written a draft or two, as I’ve had to do with my prior novels. Scrivener’s outlining and corkboard features are a big help. I already have the major turning points in the novel set, and I’m filling in each section ahead of my drafting.

Scrivener is also helping with the POV tracking. I can use different colors and labels for scenes in each POV.

I’m also learning a lot about Scrivener’s compile feature, because each week I have to export a chapter from Scrivener into Word to send to my critique partners. I don’t have it down pat yet, mostly because of my carelessness. But my group isn’t complaining too much, and I am at the point where I can compile a decent product to Word with a few clicks. Then I just need a little clean-up before emailing it to my colleagues.

When I get to the point of formatting for print-on-demand, I will probably switch to Word for the detailed work. I know many authors export from Scrivener directly to a PDF for CreateSpace, but I am not confident enough of my formatting knowledge in Scrivener, and I know Word very well.

But then, formatting to publish is a long way down the road—I’ve only drafted the story from Independence, Missouri, to around Grand Island, Nebraska, on the Platte River at this point. That’s about 25% of the book. And I know how far along I am, because so far I’ve stuck to my outline pretty well. I’ve just passed the first turning point in the story.

I guess I have learned something about story arc in the last ten years, if I can recognize a turning point on the first draft.

Writers, do you use Scrivener, and what do you think of it?

Why Were the Pioneers’ Wagon Wheels So Large?

I have researched how and where the emigrants traveled along the Oregon Trail for ten years, and I’m still learning. Recently, I learned from an article in The Wall Street Journal about why the wheel is round. The article contained the sentence:

“The difficulty of moving a wheeled object increases to the point of impossibility when the bumps that a wheel encounters approach one-quarter its diameter.”

That, the author said, is why wheels on Conestoga wagons were so big and those on steam locomotives so small.

20150426_131311-for-cover

Emigrant wagon exhibit in Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Baker City, OR

Now, keep in mind that the travelers to Oregon did not use Conestogas, which were too heavy to pull over mountains (Conestogas were used primarily in the flatter eastern United States and Canada). But the principle applies to the prairie schooners that were used in travel to the West.

Also, the front wheels on covered wagons were often smaller than the rear wheels. I’m not an engineer, but I suppose the front wheels were the limiting factor on how rocky a road the wagon could traverse.

I didn’t know this information as I wrote Lead Me Home and Now I’m Found. I wrote about the jostling wagons, but never thought about the physics behind why—other than that the trails were unimproved ruts and bumpy. Now when I write about travel to the West, I’ll think about the necessity of moving large rocks out of the way so the wheels could physically maneuver. (I did have a scene in Lead Me Home about having to cut down trees to get the wagons through the mountains.)

The article made me ponder once again the difficulty faced by the emigrants to Oregon. The more rocks a wagon was likely to encounter, the larger the wheels needed to be. If a wagon wheel had a diameter of four feet, then it conceivably could get over rocks that are one foot in diameter. But I imagine that ride would have been extremely uncomfortable.

Most likely the emigrants would have worked to go around large rocks, or move them, or otherwise avoid the rattling about that the uneven terrain would have caused. The wheels weren’t the only problem with wagon travel. The axles could break and the boards could loosen and crack. The emigrant diaries talk of frequent wagon repairs, often with only rudimentary tools and replacement parts.

Still, finding references like this one to wheel size is one of the things I love about writing historical fiction. I never know what I’ll learn—some of it necessary in the moment, some of it perhaps will be important in the future, and some of it I’ll never use. But I think again about the difficulties our ancestors encountered in their quest for a better life.

What have you read recently that taught you something?

Now I’m Found—Cover Reveal!

A year ago, I showed readers the cover of Lead Me Home, the first book in my Oregon Chronicles series. Today I am ready to reveal the cover of the sequel—Now I’m Found. (I might revise the cover slightly, but this is close to final.)

NIF front cover 9-2-16

I’m working on final edits of this book, and it will be published later this fall, probably sometime in October. I’ll definitely post on this blog when it’s available.

This novel has been a challenge, because the plot is more complex than in the first book, with longer and more intricate time lines. Now I’m Found follows Mac McDougall and Jenny Calhoun over a three year period from 1848 through 1850 in both Oregon and California.

But I’m almost finished!

And I’m very happy with the cover, which is derived from Oregon City on the Willamette River, an oil painting by John Mix Stanley, circa 1850, in the Amon Carter Museum.

To follow my progress toward publication of Now I’m Found and learn more about the book you can

  • Follow this blog on WordPress (click on “Follow” on the bar at the top of this site)
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  • “Like” my Facebook Page, Theresa Hupp Author
  • “Like” the Facebook Page for Lead Me Home  (I won’t be setting up another Facebook page for Now I’m Found, but will report on both of my novels on the Lead Me Home page).

And if you haven’t read Lead Me Home yet, it’s available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Then you’ll be ready when the sequel is published.

Many thanks to readers of this blog, who have inspired me to keep writing for close to five years. I couldn’t have done it without your support!