It’s Release Day! Trail of Hope is finally here!
I keep telling people that this installment of the Hot on the Trail series is different than anything I’ve written before. It’s different because it deals with slightly more serious topics, namely death. Both our heroine, Callie, and our hero, John, have recently experienced the death of someone close to them. This story is about coming out of grief and moving on with life.
I did a fair amount of research about death on the Oregon Trail before I wrote Trail of Hope. I know a lot of people have the idea that folks died on the Trail all the time and that your chances of survival were perilous at best. I’m not sure where this idea came from. Possibly from the difficulties of playing that wonderful old school video game Oregon Trail and trying to make it through to the end. The truth is that in the entire history of the Oregon Trail, only about 4% of people died along the way.
That’s not too bad when you stop to consider how many people die in everyday life for one reason or another. So what killed settlers on their way to start a new life in the West?
Another misconception is that Indian attacks were the biggest problem and that pioneers had to constantly be on the alert. While it’s true that in the very early days of the Trail and, ironically, in the later days of the Trail during the Civil War, there was a greater danger of attack, the truth is that Native Americans weren’t as big of a threat as stories have painted them. There was some trouble, but for the most part, once the trail was established, the U.S. Army was able to stop most attacks before they happened.
The exception to that was once the West began to be more and more populated by pioneers from the East. Many of them encroached on Native lands, which were then defended. When certain parts of the Trail became too dangerous to travel for these reasons, other routes were tested. If you think about it from a Native American point of view, it must have been really frustrating! All these foreign people who don’t understand your ways coming and coming like waves drowning a shore.
But I digress.
The single greatest cause of death on the Oregon Trail, and the cause of death I explore from Callie’s point of view in Trail of Hope, was disease. Fatal trail illnesses accounted for almost half of the deaths on the Trail. So many of these were caused by bad water, close conditions, and the lack of comprehensive medical care. The Platte wasn’t exactly the best water source around, and after so many people traveling west crossed through the same area, digging latrines that became overused and burying their dead too close to the river, problems arose.
Actually, one of the details that I chose not to include in Trail of Hope because it felt a little too gruesome to me was how people were buried if they died on the Trail. Much of the time, because there was no time to sit and wait for people to mourn, when someone died, they were buried right away. A grave was usually dug right in the trail itself, and then all the wagons and oxen would be driven over it. The purpose of this was to make it more difficult for wild animals or anyone else to dig up the deceased. Yeah, I left that out on purpose.
But really, Trail of Hope is, as its name suggests, about finding hope after great loss. It is about the fact that life goes on, which is what the whole Oregon Trail is about. I hope you enjoy Callie and John’s story!
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