Journey to an Untamed Land

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In 1820, Clarissa Johnson joins a group of young missionaries leaving New England and traveling by river to the Osage lands.  Together they face disease and danger that tests their courage and fortitude along the months’ long journey into the untamed American West.

Arriving in the Indian Country, the young missionaries struggle to build a mission and school on the prairie and work to bring education and the gospel to the Osages and Cherokees.  Caught in the middle of a feud between tribal leaders, the missionaries must work to build trust with their Indian neighbors and members of the nearby fur trading community. 

Slowly their school grows and so do their relationships of friendship, Christian fellowship and love.  But Clarissa must deal with a deeply wounded heart and the betrayal that caused her to flee her hometown        to teach at the mission school.  Will she ever learn to trust again?  Will   love find her in this untamed land?

 


Chapter one

 

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania April 16, 1820 Clarissa Johnson stood quietly on the long, wooden dock of the Pittsburgh port.  A cool morning breeze pulled strands of chestnut brown hair from the green silk bonnet she wore.  The young woman could scarcely take in the bustle of activity at one of the busiest river ports in the country.  A square jaw, strong chin and wide mouth gave Clarissa a look of confidence that she did not feel.  In fact, she felt as if the earth were moving beneath her feet.  She gave a little shake of her head to try to clear the swirling sensation.  It’s just the water and all this rushing about, she told herself to try to calm her nerves.  It has nothing to do with the fact that I’m changing my life forever.  But she knew that wasn’t true.  The bustling of the waterfront matched the turmoil in her heart. Clarissa gripped the handle of her carpetbag a little tighter and closed her eyes to shut out the sight of the water lapping at the piers and causing the boats to gently rock up and down.  “Quite an impressive operation here isn’t it?” a voice suddenly beside her caused Clarissa to jump. 

 

She opened her eyes to see one of the other members of the mission family standing at her elbow. The young man at her side was not much older or much taller than Clarissa but had a pleasant open face and nice smile. He wore his light brown hair pulled back in a club held with a simple cord of leather.  His gray wool coat was serviceable, but clearly not of an expensive cut.  Clarissa remembered that he had been introduced as a mechanic, but she could not remember his name.  She had been introduced to so many new people since they had all assembled at the United Foreign Mission Society’s headquarters in New York last week. “Yes, it’s quite impressive,” she said, hoping the name would come to her as they talked.  “I had read that the Pittsburgh port was busy but I never realized there would be so much bustling about.” “’Gateway to the West’ is what they call it,” the young man returned, his clear brown eyes scanning the wharf.  “Everyone traveling west by the rivers leaves from here.” “Do you know when we will board?” Clarissa asked, wishing that they could finally begin the journey.  Though she had left her home in Colchester, Connecticut two weeks ago, the journey would not begin in Clarissa’s mind until they left Pittsburgh.  For it was from here that she truly would be “jumping off” into the vast wilderness of the American frontier and leaving behind the comfortable familiarity of her small New England hometown. Until the keelboat pulled away from the dock, she could still change her mind, as her mother had twice reminded her when she boarded the stage in Colchester.  And Clarissa was afraid that if they didn’t board the keelboat soon, she might change her mind.  Her stomach was developing knots from the waiting. “Shouldn’t be much longer, I’d think,” the young man replied.  “I’ve seen our trunks put aboard so surely they’ll be calling for passengers soon.” He turned an appraising eye upon Clarissa, appearing to study her carefully. “Have you been aboard a boat before, Miss . . . Cleaver, isn’t it?” he asked, coloring a little as if embarrassed that he was at a loss about her name. Clarissa smiled and felt herself relax a bit.  “It’s Johnson,” she responded.  “Miss Cleaver is over there with the Spaulding family.” “I’m sorry,” he stuttered his apology.  “Afraid I’m bad with names.” “No need to apologize,” Clarissa assured him.  “I’ve been trying to remember yours and can only remember that you said it was French.” “It’s Requa,” he supplied.  “George Requa, from Mt. Pleasant, New York.” “Mr. Requa,” Clarissa repeated, offering him a gloved hand.  “Clarissa Johnson of Colchester, Connecticut.  And to answer your question, yes, I have been aboard a boat.  My family would take a summer holiday at New Haven most years. 

 

I love being out on the water.” “I’m afraid I don’t have much experience with boating myself,” George confessed.  “I hope I don’t embarrass myself by taking ill.”  He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his coat, as if suddenly self-conscious about his lack of travel experience. Clarissa eyed the squat keelboat that they would soon board as she tucked a strand of hair back into her bonnet.  The wind was getting up again, increasing the chill in the air. “I doubt that one of those keelboats gets any speed at all,” she offered.  “You’ll probably not notice the motion much, unless the winds make the river a bit choppy.  I find it helps to keep your eye on the shoreline if you feel unsettled in your stomach.” “Thank you, I’ll remember that,” George said.  Then he added, “It’s good we have a doctor in our group . . . should someone take ill, I mean.” “Yes,” Clarissa agreed.  The fact that a medical doctor would be part of the mission was one of the reasons that Clarissa’s parents had finally agreed to allow her to join it.  While they approved of her desire to do some good with her life, they had been quite reluctant at first to consider their oldest daughter’s wish to travel out to the Indian country to teach at a mission school. Clarissa could remember the conversation clearly from several months earlier.  She had sat with her family at the Sunday dinner table discussing the morning’s sermon presented by a visiting minister. 

 

The Rev. William Vaille had told about the organization of a mission society in New York that had just secured permission to establish a school among the Osages in the new Arkansas Territory.  The society was seeking workers to assist with this mission effort.  They were most in need of teachers, having secured Rev. Vaille as the pastor and secretary for the mission, as well as a medical doctor and certain craftsmen such as a blacksmith, stone mason and carpenter. While her younger sisters had amused themselves during the sermon by watching a snowfall out the church windows, Clarissa’s attention had been riveted to Rev. Vaille’s description of the beautiful prairie where the mission would be located.  Perhaps this is my answer, she thought.  I can play the courageous and benevolent teacher and no one will ever know I’m just running away. As her family sat around the dinner table following the morning church service, the discussion had immediately turned to Rev. Vaille’s plea for teachers for the mission. “Dr. Dwight says every Yale graduate should give one year of service on a mission field,” Clarissa’s younger brother George said as he carved into the boiled beef and potatoes Betsy had served.  “I plan to go . . . someday,” he added quickly, seeing his mother’s look of alarm.  “I fully intend to graduate first.” George was in his first year at Yale College, a fact that everyone in the family was proud of.  Dr. Timothy Dwight, president of the college, had long been a leader in encouraging the development of mission organizations.  The United Foreign Mission Society Rev. Vaille had helped form was a combined effort of the Presbyterian and Congregational Churches of New England.  “Mission work is a laudable effort,” Clarissa’s father said.  “But I hope you’ll give it some serious thought before you head off to the wilderness, son.  I’ll need you at the mill as soon as you graduate.” “Yes, father,” George said agreeably enough, but Clarissa knew her brother longed for some grand adventure before settling into the dull work of running a textile mill.  “Well, these missionaries are to be admired,” Emily Johnson stated.  “To head off to an untamed land, where the privations must be terrible, would certainly take a true dedication to the Lord’s work.”  She sipped at her water goblet thoughtfully.  “We should be careful to keep them in our prayers.” Clarissa took a deep breath, drawing up her courage. “I’d like to go,” she said, her voice coming out in a timorous squeak. 

 

Everyone at the table stopped what they were doing to turn and look at her.  Even her two sisters who until now had shown more interest in buttering their rolls than in the conversation about missions work were looking at Clarissa as if she suddenly had grown a second head. Her mother set her goblet down so quickly a bit of water sloshed out onto the rose damask tablecloth.  “But, Clarissa,” she said, clearly struggling to gather her thoughts.  “It’s so far.  Who knows how long you might be away before you could get back.  And to go alone?  It’s well enough, I suppose, for someone who is married.  You should wait until you’re ma. . .” She stopped abruptly.  “That is to say, until . . .” “I’d like to go,” Clarissa repeated, this time more forcefully to stop her mother from embarrassing them both.  “I have teaching experience.  They need someone to teach the young girls.  I could do some good, I think.” Clarissa saw her parents exchange a look.  And she knew at that moment that she would be going to the Indian country.  Though it took several more discussions to secure their permission, they had finally relented and agreed to allow this journey into the unknown. “I believe the captain is calling for boarding,” Mr. Requa said, interrupting Clarissa’s reverie.  “Shall we join the others?” With a hand at her elbow, the young man walked with Clarissa across the wooden wharf, their footsteps echoing on the planking suspended above the river.  At the gangplank, a queue of fellow travelers waited their turn to board the keelboat piloted by Captain Josiah Douglas. Joining their fellow missionaries, George and Clarissa fell in line behind the Chapman family.  Rachel Chapman turned and gave Clarissa a smile.  “Well, at last we are on our way,” she said. 

 

“I was beginning to despair of ever making our departure.” On the journey from New York to Pittsburgh, Clarissa had shared a coach with the Chapmans and had gotten to know them better than the other members of the group.  Rachel was an attractive woman with pale blond hair and gray eyes.  Though only a few years older than Clarissa, she was the mother of four active young children.  Clarissa had been astonished that Mrs. Chapman would not hesitate to take her children out beyond the reaches of civilization, especially after she had told Clarissa her family name.  Mrs. Chapman was from one of the wealthiest and most politically connected families in all of Connecticut. Her husband, Rev. Epaphras Chapman, would serve as the superintendent in charge of the mission.  He had traveled with an advance party of five men from the mission society to St. Louis where they would purchase the bulk of the supplies and tools they would need for building the mission complex. “Come, come, children,” Rachel turned to her young charges.  “Careful here on the gangplank.  It might be a bit wet and slippery.” Somehow she managed to get her arms across the shoulders of them all as she gently urged them forward to the boat. George Requa smiled as he and Clarissa followed behind the Chapmans.  “Motherhood seems to be her calling,” he spoke in a low voice to Clarissa. She nodded in agreement, but said nothing as the captain, resplendent in his navy uniform with gold buttons, offered her a hand to step aboard.  Carefully lifting her woolen skirt, Clarissa set her booted foot onto the deck of the keelboat and followed the Chapman clan in getting their first look at their traveling accommodations.

 

The boat was bigger than it appeared from the wharf, some sixty feet long and fifteen wide.  The pilothouse was whitewashed with a jaunty blue trim around the top.  An American flag rose above it with its 20 stars and 13 stripes snapping crisply in the breeze. Around the deck, boatmen went about the business of preparing the boat for launch.  When the passengers had all boarded, Captain Douglas stepped to the helm and cleared his throat to gain everyone’s attention.  “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said in a booming voice used to calling out sailing orders, ‘welcome aboard the finest boat upon the Ohio River today.”  The captain was a heavy-set man with full mutton chop whiskers.  He was an imposing figure, his bearing as authoritative as his booming voice. As Captain Douglas continued his welcome, Clarissa found her attention turning more closely to her traveling companions.  While there were a few passengers who were not a part of the mission group, the bulk of her fellow travelers standing around the deck would be making the journey with her all the way to the Indian country. 

 

Altogether there were twenty-three in the mission family, eight of them children.  Five more men had traveled ahead and would meet them at St. Louis. Mr. Requa had joined Dr. Palmer and they were standing near the captain.  Dr. Marcus Palmer was a much taller man, a bit thin and angular with dark hair that curled around his ears.  Not more than a year or two out of medical school, he was also from Connecticut. Near them was the Spaulding family.  John Spaulding would be the other teacher for the mission.  His wife Alice, young son Billy and sister-in-law, Eliza Cleaver, huddled close to him.  Four other single women made up the mission party.  Two, Phoebe Beach and Susan Comstock, had been hired to be housemothers for the boarding school.  They were a study in contrast – Phoebe was dark-haired and rather stocky while Susan had honey blonde hair and was quite tall and thin.  Amanda Ingles, a plump redhead would work as the cook for the mission. And Sally Edwards, a dark-haired girl who looked not more than eighteen had been hired as a seamstress.

 

Two married women whose husbands were with the advance party already in St. Louis made up the remaining women traveling alone.  Lydia Fuller was the wife of the farm director for the mission.  She had ginger colored hair that reminded Clarissa of her sister’s tabby cat.  She seemed rather pale as if she was recovering from an illness and she always held a handkerchief close to her mouth to cover a rather persistent cough.  Martha Woodruff, the oldest of the women traveling west, was married to the mission’s blacksmith. Near them stood Asenath Vaille, wife of Rev. William Vaille with their three children.  Mrs. Vaille was a pale, willowy young woman with a complexion like a china doll.  Clarissa thought she seemed too fragile to be making such an arduous journey west. But then she remembered the penetrating look Mrs. Vaille had given her when they were introduced, as if she too were questioning Clarissa’s decision in going to the wilderness.  Did she suspect that it was not some great devotion to the worthy cause of missionary work that had brought Clarissa to this journey?  Clarissa looked away as Mrs. Vaille glanced in her direction and turned her attention back to Captain Douglas. “My steward, Mr. Pennywit, will direct you to your cabins and see to your needs,” the captain concluded his speech.  “Don’t hesitate to ask for assistance.  We’ll be casting off within the half hour.”  Mr. Philip Pennywit was in his mid-thirties and had the look of a man who had long worked on the river.  He spoke with a Virginia drawl and was fair-haired with a full beard and friendly gray eyes.  He was immediately assailed with questions from the passengers. Clarissa felt Rachel Chapman crook her arm around her own.  “Now, dear,” the motherly woman said, “I think it best that you stick close with us Chapmans for the journey.”  Looking around the boat’s deck at the men who were lifting the gangplank and stowing the last of the cargo below, she added, “We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now, but some of these men look a bit rough around the edges.  It will not do for all of you unmarried women to go about the boat unescorted.” “Yes, ma’am,” Clarissa agreed politely, though she doubted that any of these rough looking roustabouts would give her a second look.  Clarissa considered herself rather plain and had never been a woman to have men buzzing about her. 

 

More likely they would be drawn to another of the unmarried women on board – Miss Eliza Cleaver. Pretty and petite, the young woman wore her abundant blonde hair in long, curling ringlets in the fashion of the day.  Clarissa watched as Eliza played with her nephew around the oarsmen’s benches on the keelboat deck.  The hood of her blue wool cape had fallen back and her curls bounced in the breeze.  Clarissa could tell that Eliza had already caught the eye of several of the men on board. Miss Cleaver, age sixteen, was traveling to Arkansas Territory with her sister Alice and brother-in-law John and their son.  Billy Spaulding at age three was one of the youngest members of the mission party.  John Spaulding would teach the male students while Clarissa was to teach the girls. “Shall we go down and look over our cabins?” Rachel asked, pulling Clarissa’s attention back to the Chapmans.  At Clarissa’s nod, she motioned her children to gather around her. “Thomas, you lead the way,” she said to her oldest son, a fair-haired boy of nine who looked to be growing out of his gray wool pants.  “I’ll be all summer sewing new clothes for that boy.” Rachel smiled proudly, causing Thomas’ ears to redden and seven-year-old Abigail Chapman to lapse into giggles.  Clarissa winked at her and her younger sister Leah.  James, a precocious six-year-old, trailed behind them, reluctant to miss any of the activity above deck. The group joined other passengers looking over their living space for the journey that would take several weeks to complete.  Mrs. Chapman declared the cabins to be neat and tidy though to Clarissa’s eye they looked terribly small and cramped.  Clarissa would share a cabin with Mrs. Martha Woodruff and with two of the other single women, Sally Edwards and Phoebe Beach. Each cabin had two sets of stacked bunks and all would be full for the journey.  With their trunks set beside the beds, there was barely floor space to walk around the cabin. 

 

A small wooden cabinet held a white, unadorned water pitcher and basin on top, with a chamber pot tucked discreetly inside its one drawer.  A high wooden shelf along the back wall with hooks beneath were all that was available for storing items. Hearing the order to cast off, passengers made their way to the top deck again, wanting to watch the procedure for pulling the heavy keelboat away from the dock.  Captain Douglas stood at the wheel of the boat with Mr. Pennywit nearby to relay orders.  The muscled oarsmen had taken position at the benches fore and aft of the pilothouse.  Other boatmen, using long poles, strained to push the keelboat away from its mooring at the wharf.  Once clear of other boats tied at the port, the rowers would lower their oars and with powerful strokes pull the boat into the current of the wide Ohio River. Clarissa stood with the Chapmans around her, but her eyes were not on the activity aboard the boat.  She kept her eyes on the bustling port, watching it grow smaller as the boat moved downstream. She felt the jerk of the boat as the rowers bent into their oars for the first mighty stroke.  She saw the expanse of muddy water widen between the boat’s stern and the wharf.

 

Now there was no changing her mind and no going back.  She could not know what would lie ahead for her as she journeyed into the vast American frontier.  But she knew it could be no worse than what she was leaving behind. Chapter two Ohio River April 16, 1820 Time on the river seemed suspended.  The keelboat had been underway for over an hour, yet it seemed only a few moments since the oarsmen had pulled away from the dock.  Clarissa found it interesting to pass through the outskirts of Pittsburgh, noting how the buildings became smaller and further apart as they moved away from the port. A river road on the shore was busy with traffic.  Freighters with large, loaded wagons pushed their teams of four, six and even eight mules toward the port.  Farmers moved at a slower pace in their wagons hauling seed or other supplies back to their homesteads.  There were plenty of riders on horseback and other folks walking along the road.  Many waved at the passing boat. The children on board had spent the first hour of travel rushing from one rail to another, as if fearful of missing any of the interesting sights along the way.  Clarissa exchanged smiles with Mrs. Chapman as they watched the children. “They don’t seem to realize we’re going to be on this boat for weeks and weeks,” Rachel said.  She and Clarissa stood at the starboard rail where it was warmer in the lee of the pilothouse.  “If I know my brood, they’ll soon tire of this running about and will be begging for something to eat.  They were all too excited to even touch their porridge this morning.” Clarissa would not admit that she too had eaten little of the early breakfast served at the hostelry though it was more nervousness than excitement that had quelled her appetite.  She marveled at the equanimity that Mrs. Chapman showed at the prospect of this long journey.  It seemed fraught with possible dangers and difficulties to Clarissa, who had been born, grew up and lived her entire life in only one house on a quiet street in Colchester. Though she had seen some of Connecticut, had visited the seaside of New Haven often and had even traveled to New York on a few occasions, this months-long journey was a first for her.  To venture beyond the protection of her family and hometown had taken a courage that had surprised even her.  If staying at home had not seemed such a dismal prospect, she would never have struck out on this mission undertaking. “Thomas . . . Leah, come away from there,”

 

Rachel called to two of her offspring when they began to lean too far over the rail as if hoping to catch one of the fish that occasionally broke the surface of the mud brown water. Thomas and his younger sister Leah turned from the rail and hurried to their mother. “Mother, may we go fishing?” Thomas asked breathlessly when they reached Rachel’s side. “Fishing!” she exclaimed with a knowing smile.  “Whatever for?” “For something to eat!” Leah answered promptly, as she hopped from one foot to another, her long strawberry blond curls bouncing.  “We’re hungry!” “Hungry!” their mother echoed.  “After eating such big bowls of porridge as you were served for breakfast this morning?” Leah’s gaze fell to her high-button shoes now no longer dancing in excitement.  “Well,” she answered slowly, “it has been such a very long time since breakfast.” Even Thomas had to laugh at the crestfallen face of his sister. They both had been caught at not having eaten their breakfast. Mrs. Chapman surveyed her children as James and Abigail joined the group.  “Perhaps the cook might have something prepared,” she said.  “If we ask politely we may entreat him to share a bit with us.  What do you think?” “Yes,” Leah quickly agreed.  “We will ask him very politely.” “Will you join us, Miss Johnson?” Rachel asked, turning to Clarissa. “Thank you, but no,” Clarissa responded.  “I may join you after a while.” Seeing Rev. and Mrs. Vaille close by, Rachel conceded to leaving Clarissa alone on deck. Clarissa watched the Chapman family as they made their way below.  Rachel had her arms clasped through Thomas’ and Abigail’s as if they were all great friends.  It was clear that their mother’s sense of adventure was shared by the children.  Perhaps that was why this journey seemed to be taken in stride by all of them. 

 

It was simply an exciting adventure, not a flight from which there was no return. Clarissa turned and leaned against the rail, glad for a moment of solitude.  She knew there would be few such moments aboard this crowded boat.  She watched the slow passing of the distant shoreline.  Birds dipped up and down above the water, their keen eyes searching for the ripples of insects on the surface.  Having left the city behind, the shore was heavily lined with trees and underbrush, not quite ready to put on their spring growth.  The smell of the river was a unique mixture of mud and fish and heavy vegetation, not entirely pleasant to the senses. The rhythmic slap of the oars created an almost hypnotic sound.  How serene the river seemed, unlike the churning within the young woman’s spirit.  Every dip of the oars carried her farther from her home, her family, her work, in some ways even her identity.  She was no longer Clarissa Johnson of Colchester, Connecticut.  But who was she?  A missionary? A teacher? She remembered her sister Millie’s quizzical look as she had helped Clarissa pack her trunk for the journey. “But why do you want to go all the way to that Arkas place?” she had asked, as they sorted through Clarissa’s dresses.  Millie was the youngest of the family and still a bit childish even at age thirteen.  Having paid little attention to all the talk about the Osage Mission, she seemed genuinely puzzled that her sister would decide to go there. “It’s Arkansas Territory,” Clarissa corrected.  “And you know why I’m going.  I’m going to teach at the mission for the Indians.” “But you already are a teacher,” Millie argued, “at the Colchester School for Young Ladies.  You don’t have to go to a mission to be a teacher.”  It’s because I’ll never be anything but a teacher, Clarissa thought bitterly, but she did not give voice to that thought. 

 

Instead, she tossed aside another silk dinner dress and tried to explain to her sister without revealing the ache in her heart. “The young ladies of Colchester have plenty of teachers,” she said. “But the girls of the Osage tribe don’t have any.  I can make a difference there.” Millie was silent for a while as she folded the simple brown wool dress Clarissa handed her.  “Are you going to marry an Indian?” she asked, cutting far closer to the heart of the matter than she realized. “Millie!” Clarissa exclaimed, as if the idea had never occurred to her and never would.  “Of course not!” “Well, that’s what George says,” the girl explained in her defense for making such a shocking statement.  She often parroted her older brother whom she idolized.  “He told mother she shouldn’t let you go to Arkans Territory because you’ll end up marrying an Indian and bring shame to the family.” “George doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Clarissa replied curtly, “and he ought to keep his ignorant opinions to himself.”  She rolled up a couple of cotton petticoats and stuffed them down into a corner of her trunk with more force than necessary. “George isn’t ignorant,” Millie defended him.  “He goes to Yale.” “That’s no proof of intelligence,” Clarissa huffed, really angry now.  “Some of the most insipid men I know go to Yale.”  Robert went to Yale, the thought came unbidden to her mind as if to offer proof of what she said.  But she wouldn’t dwell on Robert or the tears would come again and she was through with crying. “George shouldn’t offer opinions where they are not wanted.”  Clarissa turned quickly away from her sister and began to sort through her gloves.  And he doesn’t know anything about shame, she finished in her head. Even weeks later on the Ohio River, Clarissa felt the same heat of anger and embarrassment bring color to her cheeks. 

 

She turned away from the boat’s rail and let the cool morning air blow against her face. Her movement caught the attention of Rev. and Mrs. Vaille and the couple approached her.  Clarissa fiddled with her gloves, hoping her emotions were no longer written across her face.  She didn’t want the solicitous pastor and his wife to inquire if something was wrong. “Well, Miss Johnson,” William Vaille addressed her with a slight bow.  “I trust our journey has not been too strenuous on you thus far.” “Not at all, Rev. Vaille,” Clarissa replied, looking up at him.  “I’m not unaccustomed to travel, though this is my first trip by keelboat.” “You’ll find it monotonous after awhile, I’m afraid,” the pastor said, his shock of thick black hair blowing in the breeze that seemed to be picking up as the boat moved into more open farmland.  “The scenery ceases to be quite so fascinating when you’ve seen miles and miles of the same thing.” “But you traveled this way before with a group of serious men,” Mrs. Vaille countered softly, her blue eyes gazing up at her husband who was taller than her by at least half a foot.  “I think the children we have aboard will make our journey quite lively.”  The Vailles’ three children were ages nine, seven and three and had already proven to be as lively as the Chapman children. Clarissa smiled as she thought of the Chapmans.  “I’m sure you’re right, Mrs. Vaille.  The children will find ways to entertain us when the scenery fails to do so.” “Well, don’t get me wrong, ladies,” Rev. Vaille smiled down at his wife.  “There is some very interesting scenery to be viewed on the journey.  It’s just that there’s a great deal of general nothingness in between those highlights.” “I thought your description of the Indian country was quite beautiful,” Clarissa said.  “I can’t imagine the great expanse of open prairie that you talked about.” “Yes, as New Englanders we’re used to the woodlands that keep us closed in and always guessing what’s just around the bend.  Out on the prairie you can see for miles.  It can actually be quite intimidating at first.   But it is beautiful nonetheless.” “William tells me the grasses grow taller than he stands,” Mrs. Vaille said again looking up at her husband’s lanky frame.  “Now that is something I cannot wait to see.” “It’s a well-watered area where we’ll be building the mission,” Rev. Vaille explained as the young mechanic, George Requa, sauntered up to join their group.  “Our location, in fact, is very near a river the Osages call the Neosho.  It joins with two other rivers at a place called Three Forks.  There’s a little trading community developing there.

 

  The fur trade is important to the Osages and game is abundant in the region.” “What type of game?” Clarissa asked, feeling a little fearful at the thought of wild animals roaming near the mission.  She unconsciously drew her wool cape a little closer about her. “Yes, what animals are found in the region?” Mr. Requa asked, clearly eager to learn more about the country they would soon call their home.  “We saw several large herds of deer and elk,” Vaille replied.  “And at the Verdigris trading posts we saw pelts of beaver, fox, wolves, bear, mountain lions, panthers and, of course, the bison.” “I’ve seen a drawing of a bison,” George said, leaning against the boat’s railing.  “Are they really as large as I’ve read?” “We didn’t chance to see any bison when we were there,” Rev. Vaille said.  He gestured widely with his arms to illustrate his point.  “But from the looks of the hides we saw, yes, I’d say the bison is a very large animal indeed.” Just then the boat began to pitch slightly causing the small group of passengers to lose their footing.  Mr. Requa quickly took Clarissa’s elbow to steady her, but just as quickly, in a gentlemanly fashion, released her arm.  “Are you alright?” he asked. “Yes, thank you,” Clarissa replied.  “What caused that?” “McKee’s Rocks,” Rev. Vaille and George both answered as the boat continued to pitch up and down.  Clarissa took hold of the rail to steady herself.  Mrs. Vaille reached for her husband’s arm.  Clearly the boat was encountering rough waters. “I see you’ve traveled this way before,” William Vaille said to Mr. Requa.  “No,” George replied, a bit sheepishly.  “I’ve never been this far west before in my life.”  Then he pulled out a well-worn paperback book from his coat pocket.  Holding it up he said, “I’ve been reading this.”  Clarissa read the title.  “The Navigator.  What is it about?” “It’s a travel guide to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers,” George explained.  “A man named Cramer wrote it.  He gives a detailed description of what a traveler will encounter all the way to New Orleans.” “Then you’ve read about McKee’s Rocks,” Vaille said, as they were joined by the Chapman family who were coming up top to see what was going on.  Dr. Palmer followed behind them and all began to move carefully toward the front of the boat. Mr. Pennywit, the steward, met them at the bow.  “Nothing to be alarmed at, folks,” he assured them in his distinctly southern drawl.  “The rocks in the river here make it a tad rough, but we’ve never had any difficulty in getting through them.”  He stood with his hands behind him and feet apart like a soldier at ease. 

 

“The river level is high enough that we need not worry about damage to the boat.” The bow of the keelboat continued to dip up and down as they made their way through the riffs of white water.  Clarissa, like most of the other passengers, clung to the railing enthralled by the beauty of this river suddenly gone wild.  Though Leah Chapman, the youngest there at age four, clutched her mother’s skirts, even she seemed to enjoy the ride.  Soon enough though, it was over and the river returned to its placid demeanor, flattening out across the countryside with barely a ripple upon its surface.  “Mother, I don’t feel so well,” Abigail Chapman said, holding her stomach.  Her face was white, making the few freckles across her nose stand out. Mrs. Chapman lifted the girl’s chin to check her closely.  “Feeling it in your stomach, are you?” she asked. Dr. Palmer stepped closer and laid a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder.  “Give her a bit of soda water,” he advised.  “She’ll be right in a few moments.” “Oh, Dr. Palmer,” a voiced called from the stairs that led below deck.  Everyone turned to see Mrs. Martha Woodruff making her way toward them.  The older woman was out of breath by the time she reached their group. “What is it, Mrs. Woodruff?” the doctor asked. “It’s Miss Edwards,” she explained, still trying to catch her breath.  Her hat was slightly askew and strands of grey hair wisped around her face.  “You need to check on her.  She’s taken quite ill.” “I’ll get my bag and meet you at her cabin,” Dr. Palmer said, already hurrying across the deck.  Mr. Pennywit followed after him. Rev. and Mrs. Vaille joined Mrs. Woodruff and they made their way back toward the cabins. “Well, it seems the rough water doesn’t agree with everyone,” Mrs. Chapman observed.  “Come, Miss Abigail,” she said, taking her daughter’s hand.  “Let’s get something for your stomach.” Turning back to George and Clarissa, she addressed the young man. “Mr. Requa, will you act as escort for our Miss Johnson?” George straightened suddenly from his relaxed position against the rail.  “Certainly, Mrs. Chapman,” he said, seeming uncomfortable at such a request. Clarissa turned abruptly to the rail and looked out over the water.  She certainly didn’t want to be a bother to the man. He came and leaned on the rail close to her.  “You were right,” he said simply. Against her will she turned to look at him.  “Right about what?” she asked, her curiosity outweighing her annoyance. “It does help to watch the shoreline,” George said with a grin, a lock of brown hair falling across his forehead.  “If I hadn’t I would have been joining Miss Edwards and little Abigail,” he confessed in a conspiratorial tone.  “Thank you.” Clarissa couldn’t help but smile. “You’re welcome,” she said.

 

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