I don’t know when I first became interested in pioneer stories. No doubt Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House on the Prairie books had some influence. There is something about establishing one’s mark upon the landscape, the taming of the wilderness, the making of a home and creating a legacy that is so very appealing. As a child I have fond memories of my family’s little cabin in the woods, the weekend getaway we built together. Helping my father hack down sticker bushes to clear the building site, learning how to shingle the roof, chopping wood, digging up clams for chowder, all those getting-my-hands-dirty-and-blistered chores created in me the sense of being able to accomplish something–being able to be self-sufficient and capable. Although I have no hankering to travel back to those days of the pioneers, I do admire them and recently read Bound for Idaho:The 1864 Trail Journal of Julius Merrill.
Researching for my own pioneer novel I am always on the lookout for new material. I thought this would be yet another boring account along the lines of “Walked today. Another long day” type of journals, Merrill’s writing and accounts were fascinating. Really, they were. While it may not be like reading a novel, it did manage to transport me a bit. At least it disspelled some of those John Wayne wagon train movie images instilled by the Saturday television matinees my dad and I were so fond of watching. Merrill’s writing proved there were humorous moments among the hardships of traveling the endless miles.
page 44: June 14th (Fort Kearny toFort Laramie)
We saw nothing having animal life except a skunk. He was saluted with a shot from Carey’s rifle (an old Irish blunderbuss), whereupon he looked around to Carey with an inquistive glance as if to know where the noise came, evidently caring but little for half an ounce of lead. Revolvers in hand, we gave chase and succeeded in getting another shot but not the skunk.
Running after, and shooting at skunks, may not seem funny, yet the dignified, stiff language combined with my mental play-by-play brought a smile to my reading. Merrill’s descriptive writing shows it wasn’t all circling up in wagons and shooting it out with hostiles. I’ll be able to liven up my own writing by remembering to insert the fun moments along with the adventures and stress-filled daily life of living the pioneer life.