Updated: May 18, 2022
Will Rose be able to leave the comforts of high society behind and survive the rigours of the Oregon Trail? Here is the first chapter of my latest book, Rose.
April 1, 1854
Rose plunked herself down on top of her steamer trunk and sobbed. Her heart surely must be broken, it hurt so badly. How was it possible she’d been denied passage on a wagon on the Oregon Trail?
“Naw, there ain’t no room for a single woman on this here wagon train.” Captain Whittaker punctuated his sentence with a chunk of raw tobacco spit towards her feet. The shock of his words and actions left her speechless. She’d even offered to pay double the fare, but he appeared immovable. Being determined to help him understand how badly she needed to get to Oregon didn’t change his mind at all.
Why hadn’t anyone told her that rule—an unaccompanied woman would not be welcome on a wagon train? She sold almost everything she owned, except for the contents of the steamer trunk and the clothes on her back, left her teaching position at an all-girls school, and had given up the last room at the only woman’s boarding house in town. She cried into her silk hanky as the desperation of her situation hit home.
Now what, Lord? Do you not want me in Oregon? Did I misunderstand Your direction? Would the hardships of the trail prove to be too much for me? Maybe the sacrifices would be too great? You know all things, God. Do I lack the strength and courage for the trail? Are you closing the door? God, help!
Rose felt like she was invisible as people bustled about her loading their wagons for the trip. She suddenly smelled a strong whiff of new leather.
Where did that come from?
Through her brimming tears, it surprised her to see a pair of cowboy boots firmly planted on the ground in front of her, close to the hem of her skirt. She looked up to see who they belonged to and was astonished to see a pair of the kindest eyes she had ever seen.
“Howdy, ma’am. I couldn’t help but overhear your talk with the captain—”
Rose surveyed the man, as much as propriety would allow. He looked to be in his early twenties, tall and blonde. His blue eyes spoke of honesty and sincerity. His clothes were simple but clean. He held the reins of a beautiful stallion in one hand while squishing his hat in the other. He grinned…
“The name’s Lachlan, ma’am. Lachlan James Smith. When I heard how the captain spoke to you, I prayed for you, and about your troubles. I asked God to make a way for you to join this train.”
Lachlan paused and looked like he found words difficult to speak. His eyes suddenly looked determined. As he cleared his throat, he said, “I have a proposal you might be interested in. I believe it’s an idea God gave me. I would never have come up with it on my own.”
Rose dabbed at the tears on her face trying unsuccessfully to gain her composure.
A proposal? What is this man talking about? Is he meaning marriage?
“My name’s Rose Caroline Murphy.” She sniffed. “I’m sorry, Mr. Smith, because of this predicament, I couldn’t help but cry.”
“I understand, ma’am. I imagine it’d be pretty upsetting.”
“Please, call me Miss Murphy.”
“Ma’am, I mean Miss Murphy. I don’t rightly know how to ask this…”
What could this man possibly have to say that could help me?
“I’m heading out with Captain Nelson T. Whittaker for Oregon. I’ll be mighty busy with caring for the animals and pulling guard duty. I’d greatly appreciate a cook, someone to help me.”
“I’m sorry…what are you saying?” Lachlan looked so uncomfortable Rose felt sorry for him. His hat brim suffered much abuse in his big hand.
“Ma’am, I mean Miss Murphy, if you agree, I could sign you up as part of my wagon contents. Oh, that sounds terrible. Sorry. I mean, you would be my traveling companion. I had thoughts I might starve to death, and wondered how I would manage.” He smiled sheepishly.
Seeing the horrified look on Rose’s face, Lachlan quickly explained. “I mean, if this would work for you, I’d be glad to chaperone you and see you safely to wherever you’re going. I’d sleep under the wagon at night. The wagon would be yours. It would all be very proper.”
Rose breathed a sigh of relief. She hadn’t been exactly sure what he might propose, but she sure didn’t want to be part of anything scandalous. Was the man really offering to give up his bed and sleep on the hard ground for her?
“Would Captain Whittaker approve of me going along with you, Mr. Smith? After all, I’m not your wife.”
“Please call me Lachlan. It makes me feel ancient to be called Mr. Smith. Well, I planned to ask him right after you said how you felt about the idea. I would pay your passage as a thank you for cooking my meals and taking care of my wagon.”
Rose thought for a moment. She really had no other options. He would pay her fare? How very generous of him! The use of the wagon alone cost him about four hundred dollars. To pay for her fare would be another five hundred dollars on top of that.
“I accept your proposal, Mr. Smith. I would love to be your cook.” She noted the relieved look in the man’s eyes. “It’s very kind of you to offer, but I think I should pay my own way.”
“No, if you’re coming along to help me, I insist on paying.” Lachlan smiled. Rose noticed how his face lit up when he smiled. “I’ll speak to Captain Whittaker.”
“I’ll go with you. He just told me I couldn’t travel on his train.”
“Well, your circumstances just changed, ma’am. I mean, Miss Murphy.”
As they approached him, Nelson T. Whittaker had a look on his face that said, “Not you again!”
What he did say was, “I ain’t changin’ my mind. No unaccompanied women are allowed on this here wagon train!”
About to spit tobacco at Rose’s feet again, the man nearly choked on the wad instead when she smiled sweetly before saying, “But I’m no longer unaccompanied, sir.”
Captain Whittaker’s face turned red, obviously not a man to be trifled with. Lachlan seemed to notice the man’s frustration so he quickly spoke up. “I have offered to be her chaperone.”
The captain’s face clearly registered shock as Lachlan continued. “I have offered to see the lady safely to her destination.”
“What do you propose for sleeping accommodations? I’ll have no tom foolery under my watch.”
“Of course, sir. I have offered to sleep under the wagon.”
“Well then, miss, it looks like you’ll be part of this here wagon train after all. There better not be any trouble.”
Rose opened her purse to pay, but Lachlan stepped in front of her. “I’ve hired her as my cook, sir. Here’s her passage money.” He dropped a few gold nuggets into the boss’s hand, more than enough, she supposed. Standing to the side, she couldn’t help but notice the joyful look on her new hero’s face. He seemed so thankful God provided him a cook. She’d definitely been blessed! And by such a handsome gentleman!
As they walked away from the very perplexed looking trail boss, Lachlan asked, “May I carry your trunk to our wagon, ma’am? I mean, Miss Murphy.”
“Thank you. I’m surprised Captain Whittaker agreed.”
“Why wouldn’t he? You have a chaperone, and he has a handful of gold.”
As kind as this man was, Rose felt some irritation at being treated like a child.
Land sakes! This is 1854. Why do women need a chaperone? I can take care of myself.
Smiling sweetly as Lachlan picked up her steamer trunk, she noticed he made it look as if the heavy trunk carried only feathers.
He might be shocked to know what it held.
After placing the trunk in the wagon, Lachlan glanced at Rose.
“Do you have any special grocery items you’d like me to pick up?”
That’s when Rose realized how unprepared she was for a six-month journey across the continent. What had she been thinking? She possessed no list; no groceries either. This man must think she was a bit daft.
“I threw my list away, but I can get the list from my brother.”
Maybe I should have told Lachlan I can’t cook—
“Let me know if there’s anything special you need.”
Am I being deceitful? He has to know the truth.
“Would you still want me along as your cook if I told you I can’t cook?”
“You can’t cook?”
He grinned at her. “Well, you can learn. Can’t be that hard.”
Relief washed over her. “I can make tea.”
“That’s a great start.”
“I’m sorry. I should have said something sooner—before you paid for me.”
“It’s fine. My sister-in-law, Willow, will be traveling on this train. She’s a great cook. She’ll help you.”
That night Rose slept in a covered wagon for the first time. She awoke in the blackness of early morning unsure of her whereabouts. Used to silk sheets and eider down quilts, it seemed strange waking to a crunchy cotton coverlet and the sound of canvas flapping.
It took a few moments to get her bearings, then she grinned. She was really in a wagon being outfitted to head out on the Oregon Trail. A dream come true! Too excited to sleep, she went over the miraculous details of the previous day.
Leaving the boarding house had been surprisingly painful. She lived there for her first two years of teaching, right after training at the teacher’s college. The matronly Mrs. Morgan, owner of the house, was like a mother to all five girls. She took her duty seriously to educate them in all manner of etiquette. Rose learned so much from this gentle, caring woman. Mrs. Morgan asked the girls to call her Ma. Rose would never admit this to anyone, but she loved Ma more than her adopted Ma.
The girls were like sisters. They cried as she hugged them goodbye. So many tears. The chances of seeing them again in this life were slim. They all knew they were saying goodbye until eternity.
Then there was Thomas G. Taylor. She had no trouble saying goodbye to this man of wealth and prestige, a man who pinned his hopes on having her for his wife.
Nothing but a deep, godly love will ever persuade me to marry. Dear God, please lead me by your Holy Spirit. Help me never to run ahead of you. Please always make Your will clear to me. Thank You, Lord, for hearing my prayer.
She had refused Thomas’s marriage proposal.
How could she possibly accept? Life sounded stuffy and boring living in a mansion. She had no desire to be surrounded by doting servants and way too much finery for a person to ever feel comfortable in her own home.
Besides, Rose knew he didn’t love her. He wanted a trophy wife, someone to look beautiful in his home, like an exotic piece of furniture.
She could envision her future with that man and it looked grim. He wanted someone who would be submissive to his every wish. Having a mind of her own and an adventurous spirit would definitely not be an asset. Her spirit would have to be quelled, squashed down into a small corner of her being until there would be no Rose left. She’d end up being a hollow, empty, unloved shell.
She had far too much life, passion, mischievousness, and adventure in her to be tempted into a loveless marriage—no matter how advantageous the match seemed to her family and friends. The girls in the boarding house all thought she was crazy and announced they hoped Thomas G. Taylor would notice one of them.
Only Ma seemed to understand Rose’s heart. They sat in the boarding house parlor, sipping tea and eating cookies, just the two of them. Rose knew it would be the last visit she would ever have with this dear woman, so she cherished every second.
“Rose, you must follow God, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if your parents liked Thomas and thought him someone worthy of you. They don’t have to live with him.”
She couldn’t help but laugh. “My mother took one look at his mansion and liked him instantly. I love my mother, but honestly, I’d rather be in a shack with someone who loves me than a mansion where I am as loved and needed as a chair.”
How she loved Ma’s laugh. “Rose, you are such a precious woman. I’m sure God has a special man who will love and cherish you. He loves you too much to have you settle for anything less.”
“Oh, Ma. You’re so kind, but I don’t want to meet anyone. I have a dream I want to pursue, and I don’t need a man.”
Ma just smiled. She said a lot, just the way she smiled. Her eyes said, “Just be patient, my dear Rose, and trust God.”
Hugging her precious Ma goodbye left them both crying.
“Please write and tell me how things have fared with you.”
Rose had a passing moment of grief as she thought about her adoptive mother. Mrs. Murphy asked her NOT to write. Mrs. Murphy cut loose the apron strings because Rose wasn’t following her wishes by marrying a wealthy socialite. When she said goodbye to Rose, it was forever.
“Naturally, I’ll write. I’ll miss you, Ma Morgan.”
“I love you, Rose. I’ll miss you. God be with you and protect you. May He keep you safe in the secret place of the Most High, under the shadow of the Almighty.”.
Did I really sense God’s leading? There are so many teachers in Independence—many without work. I heard there are empty school houses in Oregon because there are no teachers. Ever since I heard that, I knew I had to be there. They deserve the opportunity to learn. I’m determined to give some of them that chance.
She remembered Ma’s last words. “Now dear, be careful on the trail. There are so many dangers. Watch out for snakes in the grass and snakes among men.”
Lying in the wagon, listening to the sounds of the night, her mind came around again to Lachlan James Smith. He wasn’t a snake. She didn’t have to be wary of him. How she thanked God for that man rescuing her from an uncertain future.
He paid my passage? Five hundred dollars? Are cook’s wages that high? That’s quite the salary. Oh wait! I don’t believe I thanked him. He must think me terribly rude.
Her mind rested on the kindness she saw in his face that spoke of nobility and integrity. Just then she heard loud snoring coming from under the wagon.
Oh, this could be a long six months…
The new day finally dawned. As she jumped out of the back of the wagon, Rose was surprised to see Lachlan busy preparing coffee and cornmeal mush.
“Mr. Smith, I thought that was my job.”
“It’s okay. We aren’t traveling yet, and I was up early.”
“I didn’t thank you for paying my fare.”
Lachlan smiled. “My pleasure, ma’am.”
She noted again how his face lit up when he smiled.
“I’ll take you to meet my brother and his wife after breakfast. Willow’s from the Sioux nation. They are expecting their first child in about four months. I’m sure she’ll be grateful for your company.”
After the tin dishes were cleaned up and stored in the larder on the side of the wagon, Lachlan led Rose down the line of wagons.
“Owen and Willow, this is Rose Murphy, my new cook.”
Both faces registered surprise. Owen reached out a paw of a hand that enclosed Rose’s. “Happy to meet you, ma’am.”
Rose smiled at them, but Willow just stared at the ground.
Is she shy?
“I’m happy to meet you both.”
The woman briefly glanced up at Rose, flashed a brief smile, then quickly looked down again. Rose noted the roundness of Willow’s belly. She looked closer to delivering a baby than four months from now. Rose determined then and there she was going to be good friends with the woman.
“Owen, I threw away my supply list. May I borrow your list so Rose can see if she needs anything?”
“Of course. I’ll fetch it.”
Rose stood smiling at the beautiful Indian woman, and wondered how she could become her friend. Did she even speak English? Well, she could try…
“Willow, Mr. Smith hired me as his cook, but unfortunately, I don’t know how to cook. Will you teach me?”
Her black eyes looked up for a moment, then down again, but the twinkle said yes. Rose smiled.
“Here it is, Lachlan. Supplies are getting low. Best go as soon as possible.”
Rose surveyed the list. “That’s a lot of supplies you had to get.”
“You could be out there for six months, depending on the weather. It means death if you aren’t prepared.”
“Mr. Smith, did you get everything? It seems a lot of things. Where did this list come from?”
“Everything, ma’am, and the list came from the merchant.”
Rose is available on Amazon at https://amzn.to/3vz2r1g