She’s a widowed young woman taking care of her mother-in-law just like the biblical Ruth. He’s a stubborn Sheriff who has forsaken God. How can they connect with each other on the dangerous trail that lies ahead?
California Trail, 1846.
Rebecca is a selfless widowed young woman who has decided to stay with her mother-in-law after her husband’s passing, just like another Ruth to her Naomi. When the opportunity to travel West arrives, the women decide to make the arduous journey together. However, life on the trail is fraught with poverty, hardship and fear. Saving Daniel from the wilderness, will show Rebecca that God wants to open her heart again. How can she listen to His command when surviving might drive them apart?
Daniel is a protective former deputy who has forsaken God’s love after his parents’ death. Along with his mute sister, they hop onto a wagon train heading to California. This is their only chance to start anew. A random attack leaves them stranded in the middle of nowhere. When they’re saved by Rebecca, Daniel will feel that God might just watch over him. The trail is dangerous and challenging. How can Daniel overcome his fear of losing the people he loves and connect with Rebecca?
Life on the trail is strenuous and full of fear, and only God can be their guide. When difficult choices lie ahead of them, how can their newfound love and God show them the way?
The young woman stood before a group of people. They were seated in the living room of a ranch house, patiently waiting for her to begin. She glanced around at them, smiling shyly.
Her name was Ida Wilson, and she was eager to share this story. But when she looked at the others in the room, three women, two men, and two children, she recognized how strange it was, even now, to have people waiting to listen to her.
But this was a story that needed to be told. And while Ida had never imagined she would be among those fearless women who boldly wrote and published under their own names, like Caroline Kirkland and Mary Holly, it was an honor to portray this love story. It was an honor to tell the tale of what happened when she and her brother happened upon a young woman, all while they made their way west.
At last, Ida opened the book in her hands and began to read.
“It is said that God always finds you in the turbulent times, but this is a story of how a man and a woman came to find each other and fell in love not knowing it was God’s plan for them all along.”
Ida paused and took a deep breath. She glanced up at her listeners once more and they were all still smiling, giving her the encouragement to go on. She saw that Rebecca’s eyes were already glistening over and appreciated that her words had been enough to move those sitting in the room around her.
Then again, this was their story, too. More so, actually. Ida had been fortunate to write these things and, over the past year of getting this memoir finished and subsequently published, she had been moved by revisiting all that had taken place.
At last, she was ready to continue, finally confident in the work she had done.
“Their story, the story of our hero and heroine, was recorded in my journals as we crossed through the harsh lands of the Americas, making our way west. We faced scorching heat and blistering cold. We faced the consequences of our invasion: attacks from the natives who have experienced such cruelty at the hands of others.
“We tested our fates at swollen river crossings, rain, and windstorms, the choice of paths which led to life or death. And while for many of us, it was survival which kept us going, there were two among our party who had higher stakes. For them, it was about love,” Ida said, pausing for a moment.
“Just as the limits of our strength and lives were tested by the madness which surrounded us, so was their love. It struggled through the greatest, most difficult of trials, the most shocking of tragedies. But even as they fought to accomplish the deepest of feats, they wondered what it might mean for them in the end.
“Would they make it? Or would they be lost?” Ida asked.
1846-three years earlier
Rebecca Henshaw shook her hair out of her face as the wagon came to a stop. The brown, wavy locks hung loose at her shoulders and she wished she had tied it back out of her way.
She and Mary had arrived in Springfield, Illinois at last. They were planning to meet Mary’s brother, Robert Lang. He had written to Mary about a grand opportunity that would give the two widows the support they needed.
Rebecca, of course, wanted to work as well. She thought it was only fair. Mary, her late husband’s mother, was older and shouldn’t have had to be the only one to carry them, by selling her stitching. But for the moment, Mary was the one with an opportunity and Rebecca loved her mother-in-law dearly. She couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her.
So Rebecca had followed. Determined that she would try to help out, to find work as soon as they arrived out West, she was going to accompany Mary through this journey.
“Oh, there he is!” Mary exclaimed, waving at a man coming in their direction.
“You go and greet him, I’ll get our things,” Rebecca said, grabbing the two bags they had brought while Mary ran off. Thankfully, they hadn’t brought much with them. They didn’t have much to bring anyway, so it didn’t make a huge difference.
A few dresses, some sewing supplies, a couple good pairs of shoes just in case they had to do a bit of walking on rough terrain. They couldn’t need much more than that. Besides, the man who would be employing Mary reportedly planned to bring everything else. He was bringing oxen they could eat, as well as some dried beans and the pots to cook them in.
It sounded as though James F. Reed had organized the perfect plan for his party, who was making their way to California.
Rebecca reached Mary and Robert, who smiled at her and gave a nod.
“This must be Wesley’s wife. Nice to meet you, Mrs. Henshaw,” he said.
It was still painful to hear herself referred to as Mrs. Henshaw. In the year since Wesley’s passing, Rebecca had struggled to overcome her sadness. She missed her husband, but the accident that took him from her had seemed to take everything.
“Yes, I am. Nice to meet you, Mr. Lang. I am looking forward to this journey. Mary tells me that you and your employer have worked out a rather exciting plan for this journey,” Rebecca said.
“We sure have. Come along now. The rest of them aren’t too far from here. We are planning to set out soon enough and everything is a bit in a state of chaos. But it’s the good kind. It’s the sort of chaos that proves how much we have going on and how wonderful this trip is going to be,” Robert said.
“I’m glad to hear it. I imagine there are quite a few people coming along,” Rebecca said as they walked to his wagon which would take them the rest of the way.
“Sure are. I don’t know, maybe sixty? Eighty? I suppose we’ll get the final count soon enough,” he said.
Rebecca looked outside and saw the beauty of the landscape. The country they rode through was flat, with fields of wheat and corn and even flowers. The sun sat high above it all, casting the colors into a vibrant and rich kaleidoscope.
Soon enough, she and Mary entered a town with wooden signs announcing saloons, general stores, and tailors.
They rode in the wagon for just over an hour before they reached a scene that Rebecca had never imagined in all her life. There had to be hundreds of oxen, all wrangled together in various groups and watched over by various men. There were a few dozen wagons, including one which was so enormous, it might as well have been a home of its own.
“Have you ever seen anything like it?” Rebecca asked Mary.
Mary giggled quietly.
“I didn’t know we were carrying a boarding house for everyone. I think every last man, woman, and child here can fit in that thing,” she said.
“Is it… is it two stories high?” Rebecca asked.
“Sure is,” Robert said, overhearing them.
Rebecca had never heard of such a thing. She hadn’t even known that was possible. But, alas, there they were, standing before just such a structure.
“It is marvelous. I never imagined…” Mary said.
“Well, you should probably meet the owner himself. You will be working for James and Margret. They are the ones who arranged it all. But there are others who are helping to lead the party. George and Jacob Donner, two brothers who are also bringing their families,” Robert said, brushing a hand through the dark lock of hair that fell in his grey eyes. He was not a small man, but he had a grandfatherly nature to him that Rebecca appreciated.
“Excellent. I’m looking forward to meeting them,” Mary said.
They all climbed out of Robert’s wagon and made their way to the grand, two-story beast. Rebecca was in awe of the fact that it cast a shadow over her from a couple yards away.
“James, I would like to introduce you to Mary and Rebecca,” Robert said.
“Oh, of course! How good to meet you both. Robert has told me so much about the two of you,” James said.
“Nice to meet you, too, Mr. Reed,” Rebecca said.
She noted that he had a very commanding presence. This was a man accustomed to being in charge, although he did seem quite nice.
“My wife, Margret, is just right over there. I’m sure she’ll be around to say hello soon, but she’s been pretty busy with the children today,” he said.
“Well, I look forward to meeting her when the time comes,” Mary said.
“Certainly. And you will need to meet all the others as well,” he said, walking toward another crate that he loaded while they were still there.
Rebecca looked around again at all of the hustle and bustle. There were men with all sorts of supplies they were loading up and others who were feeding the oxen, trying to make certain they were plenty fat for the journey.
Young children were running around playing while the older boys were assisting their fathers with the labor and the older girls were either watching over the little ones or helping their mothers with sewing or filling bags with bean.
Around the scene, there were plenty of people from the town who were watching the spectacle. A few jumped in to assist here and there, but Rebecca imagined that most of them just wanted to get an idea as to what all was going on.
“Anything we may do to assist you?” Mary offered. It was the job for which she had been brought along and Rebecca wanted to make herself useful as well.
“For the moment, why don’t you meet everybody. There will be plenty of work for you to do, but I want you to get comfortable and also ensure that everyone knows who you are. Most of us have already been together for a few days—or years, as the case may be—and we are pretty familiar with each other,” he said.
“Of course,” Rebecca said.
“Anyway, it’s best if you get to know a few names and faces and then you can help me or Margret out with some different tasks,” he said.
It was a wise idea and gave Rebecca and Mary the opportunity to continue moving about the camp and getting to know people. Surrounded by noise and an air of energy, excitement, and hope for the future, Rebecca trusted that this had been the best decision.
“And here is the great George Donner,” Robert said in a friendly manner, presenting the man.
“I think you’re confused, Robert. Jacob is the great one. I’m just the brother,” George said with a laugh.
“Ah, yes. Of course. My mistake,” Robert quipped.
“Who do I have the pleasure of meeting?” George asked.
“This is my sister, Mrs. Mary Henshaw, and her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Rebecca Henshaw,” he said.
“Well, how nice to meet you ladies! I hope you enjoy the journey with us. I trust James has your husbands off helping with the oxen or loading the wagons?” he asked, as if amused by how much work James was demanding from everybody.
George looked at Rebecca through intense eyes, smiling broadly across a rugged face. His hands were rough when he shook hers.
Rebecca looked away, not knowing how to handle the awkward moment. Because of her youth, she knew that no one would expect her to be a widow. Why would they?
“Oh…” George said, as if he understood the awkward silence from both women. “Forgive me, that was a foolish assumption to make.”
“It’s perfectly all right, Mr. Donner. How could you have known?” Mary asked, politely.
“Well, like I said, I’m the foolish brother, I suppose,” he said.
“In that case, let’s head off and we can meet the other one,” Robert said, trying to break the tense moment and move forward.
They headed down the makeshift path between wagons, children, dogs, and supplies. It was only a few moments before they reached another wagon with a man who resembled George Donner.
“And this is Jacob,” Robert said.
“Nice to meet you, ladies. Robert told me all about you. We’re looking forward to having you along,” he said. Jacob was a thin man with dark hair and a thick, neatly trimmed beard.
Once they had met a few more people, including George’s wife and Robert’s entire family, they went back to the Reed family’s wagon.
“All right, so this here is my wife, Margret. And this is Virginia, Patty, James Jr. and Thomas. This is my wife’s mother, Miss Sarah Keyes.”
Indeed, Rebecca watched the three men as they gathered the oxen into small groups so that they wouldn’t escape and could be counted more easily.
Thus far, Rebecca was amazed by the families and everything they were doing. She also found Mr. Reed to be a very nice, friendly man, despite the fact that Robert had hinted as a rather different sort of demeanor.
“It looks as though you have quite a full set of hands to help you out,” Mary said, somewhat nervously.
“Oh, don’t you worry. There will be plenty for you to do. And, Mrs. Henshaw, if you are up for it—or even if you’re not—I can guarantee you that you will have plenty of tasks to help with,” he said.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Rebecca replied. “I like to keep busy.”
“Then busy you shall be. Trust me, we’ve got plenty of work. Robert here is going to help coordinate some of that, aren’t you?” he asked.
There was a hint of challenge in Mr. Reed’s eyes and it was the first moment that Rebecca thought maybe she really did detect a bit of arrogance from this man. Certainly, he was quite brilliant. That much was sure. After all, he had arranged this whole expedition and was clearly an excellent man for the job.
Although Rebecca had not seen the entirety of their plans moving forward, she was ready.
“What do you think?” Virginia asked, coming over to her, with Patty just behind.
“The wagon?” Rebecca asked. “It’s marvelous.”
“You should come in and see it a little better. I know my father pointed out our grandmother to you, but you can come in and meet her,” Virginia said.
“Certainly. That would be lovely,” she said.
“The whole wagon has been modified for her comfort especially. While I think we are all quite happy with it, she was the priority,” Patty added.
Rebecca followed them inside and saw their grandmother, Sarah Keyes, in an old rocking chair. She let out a hacking cough before anything more could be said. It was quite clear that the old woman was very ill. More than likely, it was consumption. She had a thin, pale face that warned of her days nearing an end.
“And who is this lovely young lady?” Sarah asked, her voice ragged.
“Rebecca Henshaw, ma’am. How do you do?” Rebecca asked.
“I’m as good as I’ll ever be. I assume you are joining us on this merry journey of ours?” Sarah asked.
“Indeed. I am coming with you all and I am very much looking forward to it. I don’t know what lies ahead for me, but I trust that God will bring it to fruition,” she said.
“That is a very fine way to look at it. You know, I think we are going to have a rough time ahead of us. Don’t get me wrong, I know that my son-in-law has done his best to arrange all of this, but I can’t imagine this journey will be perfectly simple. And I don’t know that a sick, old woman like me will see the end of it,” Sarah said.
Rebecca was sad to think of that, but she tried to smile anyway and shake her head.
“Don’t think of it that way. I’m sure you will make it through just fine,” Rebecca said, although it was a pitiful attempt at being encouraging.
“Well, regardless, I am eager to see what happens as well. So, tell me, are you traveling with a husband or family?” Sarah asked.
“No,” Rebecca said, sadly. “Just with my mother-in-law. I have no family of my own. I was orphaned as a young child and eventually found love. He passed away last year, but I grew very close to his mother. Now, Mary has been invited on this journey and I just had to come with her. I could never part from her.”
Although it was sad to be a widow, Rebecca’s heart warmed whenever she spoke of Mary. Her mother-in-law was her dearest friend in all the world.
Sarah smiled at Rebecca and leaned forward.
“I commend you for your loyalty to your mother-in-law. Tell me, do you know the story of Ruth in the Bible?” Sarah asked her.
“Y-yes, I do. She was married to a young man, but after he passed away, she stayed with his mother,” Rebecca said.
“Exactly, Ruth accompanied Naomi back to the land of Judah in the Old Testament. She was loyal and loved her mother-in-law. They remained together even though Naomi’s son, Ruth’s husband, had passed away. It reminds me a great deal of your story,” Sarah said.
Rebecca knew the story, but it had never occurred to her that she shared any similarities with it. It was only in that moment that she was able to recognize what Sarah was saying. Indeed, she really was similar to Ruth in that sense.
“I have to admit that I’ve never thought about it. I like the analogy, however. I am honored to be compared to someone from the Bible,” Rebecca said, humbly.
“Well, the Word of the Lord is my constant companion, so I tend to see things often that others may not necessarily compare. My hope in life is to watch others draw near to the Lord and when I meet people like you, people with strong character and clear loyalty, it encourages me in looking to the future with hope that there are still those who have good hearts in this world,” Sarah said.
Rebecca and Sarah chatted for a little while longer before Virginia and Patty continued to give her a tour of the wagon. Eventually, she went back to find Mary with Robert and his wife, Annette.
“Well? What do we think?” Robert asked.
“I think this was the right decision,” Mary said.
Rebecca agreed with all her heart.
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