The small family started out for California a year after Sarah’s father Jacob convinced his Uncle Vernon to lend him three thousand dollars. Uncle Vernon, a stodgy, life-long bachelor, had money stashed in his mattress, money he swore he would use come some rainy day. But Uncle Vernon didn’t like adventure as much as he liked his old stuffed chair and pipe tobacco, so he was willing to live his dream through Jacob, provided Jacob promised to write often and keep a journal.
So Jacob took that money and began purchasing supplies, while his wife Mary packed up what little they had left in the way of worldly goods after selling what they could and giving away what they couldn’t.
The one thing Mary couldn't give up was her Singer sewing machine. Mary loved to sew and had made all of Sarah’s dresses from the time she was a baby. She also mended the family clothes as well as taking in odd mending and even some tailoring jobs, mostly for Uncle Vernon who’s girth seemed always to be ahead of his clothing alterations.
Jacob scoured the town for buyers of his farming equipment, spending several months negotiating and trading for the supplies he would need for the journey. The tough part was knowing what supplies to get now and what to hold off on until they got their wagon in Independence.
Jacob hired three spaces on a ferry heading out of Jefferson City Missouri right on the Missouri River, landing in Independence two days later, and the start of Indian territory. That’s when Jared Bartlett took ill with cholera and died right there on the boat. The group stopped off for a quick burial, Jacob wrote a letter to Bartlett’s wife, and left it at the post in Independence.
Jacob planned to stay in Independence for three days while he gathered supplies, but God’s will kept him and his family for nigh on a week waiting for the rain to abate and the trail to dry. In the meantime, he bought supplies, and packed and repacked the wagon.
Jacob sold several horses at home and used the money to buy four head of ox as he figured it would be stronger on the trail and easier to feed. He also purchased a small but sturdy wagon they call a “Prairie Schooner”, from Jed the local craftsman who had originally made it for a man named Thomas and his trek out west. Thomas never even made the start of his trek. Died of cholera before he even hitched up a mule.
He also bought a pick ax, and a rifle, neither of which seemed of much use to us in our little town, but came in real handy out in the wilderness. Jacob practiced with the rifle for two days trying to shoot a bottle from twenty yards and fared horribly.
Beyond that he had to purchase a shovel, tent, two lanterns, pants for Jacob made of flannel and coats made of canvas and waterproofed with linseed oil. In Mary’s medicine bag she brought hot drops, peppermint sauces, blister plasters, sticking salve, laudanum, and tincture of bobelia.
Barrels of flour, sacks of sugar, cornmeal, salt and coffee also laden the little wagon that is nothing more than a bed, a box of some 9 or ten feet long and four feet wide, some running gear made of well seasoned hickory, and a canvas top. It had no brakes (or springs), and so the men tied chains around the rear wheels to lock them up when riding down a slope.
Two fights broke out in the week Jacob, Mary and Sarah were in Independence, one of which left an opening in Providence Company for there little wagon. Seems, one Samuel decided to usurp leadership of the company due to his time spent in the army some years back. Shots were fired sometime near midnight, and Samuel fled his wagon and as much provision as he could stuff into it. Oh, and with a bullet hole in his thigh. Some expected they would run into him somewhere on the trail. Since Jacob had the money to repurchase the lost supplies, his family became the logical choice for Samuel’s replacement.
The second fight broke out two days later among the men of Wild Badger Company, a company which disintegrated completely when William, the leader, was shot dead in his wagon, apparently the result of a bad gambling debt in town. Without William to lead the company, those left would not go, not trusting his myopic second man.
Providence Company finally set off on April 16 of 1850, a bright sunny morning after what locals swore was the last of the heavy rains. The morning started out cool and moist, but soon gave into the sun’s rays, the heat causing the tent canopy’s to sweat and steam. Sage brush covered the entire area for many hundreds of miles, its pungent pollens tickling Sarah’s nose and causing her eyes to water furiously.
She warmed up to the excitement of the trip from the time the family began, being always the one who saw the fights break out first hand, the one ever on the alert to spot a new kind of bird or animal, and the one always ready to lead the other children into adventures in the group.
“We weren’t getting into no trouble,” Sarah said to her mother as Mary dragged her by the ear to their wagon, “we were just playing cowboys and Indians.”
“That’s not the kind of game you should be playing out here where there are real Indians Sarah, besides, it isn’t lady-like to be playing with all those boys.”
“Who wants to be lady-like? Those silly old girls of Mr. Carter’s are just spoiled babies who want to play afternoon tea. It’s boring.”
“Boring it may be,” Mary chided Sarah as they sat down to make supper, “but it’s safe.”
“Are we ever going to see any real Indians Mother? With their faces all painted up, and riding bare-back on their ponies?”
“Child, what an imagination you have. Let’s hope we don’t meet any of those savages. God knows what they would do to us.”
“Mother, why don’t we eat the food that the other people are eating?”
“Because you have seen Tiny, the cook, he’s filthy. And always drunk. I dare say, I am surprised he hasn’t caught his cook wagon on fire. Nearly fell into the fire this Sarah looked up from her work just in time to see Mr. and Mrs. Carter with their daughter Honorea heading their way. “I’ll go into the wagon and get the flour,” Sarah spurted out as she ran for the wagon.
“Evening,” Mary said rather more sternly than she would have liked.
“Evening,” replied Mr. Carter. “We have come to invite your lovely daughter Sarah over to help us celebrate Honorea’s birthday.”
Honorea promptly spotted Sarah peeking out from the tent and stuck her tongue out at her. Sarah promptly replied in like kind.
“It isn’t going to be anything outlandish, just a slice of cake and some songs,” Samuel Carter went on, his wife nodding her head in approval, “it’s just that, there aren’t any other girls her age to celebrate with you know.”
“Oh I understand Mr. Carter,” Mary said, as she turned to walk toward the wagon and get Sarah.
“I don’t want to go over there,” Sarah hissed to her mother from behind the wagon tarp, “They’re so stuffy.”
“I know they are a bit uppity Sarah, but they are our traveling companions. I think you should go. She’d be delighted,” Mary said a little to cheerily. “I’ll send her over presently.”
Sarah let out a very audible groan.