Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Pretend we’re pushing the frontier westward

Come along. We’re planning to leave our home near St. Louis — it’s the early 1800s — pushing the frontier westward. It’s called Upper Louisiana, honoring Louis XIV, and has been bought from France for $15 million. President Thomas Jefferson recently — 1804 — sent two former army officers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and a crew of 46 up the Missouri River to explore this unknown territory and report on everything. They encountered only friendly Indians. Would your man consider going too?

Daniel Boone and his followers passed through here a few years ago; they came on horseback, on foot and some came by tree trunk canoes — about 800 miles — from Kentucky. This scruffy-looking bunch built dirt-floor cabins near where the Femme Osage Creek empties into the Missouri River. The hunting and fishing are really good there. Soil is fertile, and there’s lush grass for cattle.

How will we find our way on this imaginary adventure? Daniel Boone’s boys have left tracks more than a hundred miles west, north of the river, to a salt spring. They’re boiling salty water till nothing remains but salt; they ship it by keelboat, down stream, to the market here in St. Louis. We may be using the Boones’ salt now.

In the wilderness, we’ll need salt for tanning deerskins, for preserving venison and for making jerky like the Indians do, to keep meat till summer. We’ll take garden seeds and hope to raise cabbage next year; we’ll need salt for kraut as well as pickles and meat. Hunters trade furs for salt.

Our wagons will follow the wandering tracks of Nathan and Daniel Morgan Boone. In dry times, they’ll be the shorter routes, but we’ll switch to high ridges and rocky trails when it’s muddy. We’ll be crossing creeks and rivers using our wagon beds for boats; that’s why we built the "prairie schooner" wagon instead of the heavy Conestoga, which has huge wheels too big for making tight turns. For crossings, the wagon wheels will go on the schooner, and the seven oxen will swim across. You ask why seven oxen?

Mules or horses are faster, but an ox is sure-footed and better on rough terrain. There’ll be creek beds and steep hills to cross with those wagons, and we’ll be walking a lot. Six oxen will pull, the seventh, a female with baby, will be used in emergencies such as injury to one of the team. Also, she’ll provide milk for our young’ns if worst comes to worst.

You’re wondering where we’ll sleep? In the wagon, for women and children, and under the stars for men and older boys. We’ll take necessities only — the Bible, of course. There’ll be a compartment under the wagon bed for a few pieces of take-apart furniture: a folding rocking chair with a cloth sling seat, a walnut wardrobe, a spinning wheel and a few other things we won’t need till we decide to stop and build cabins.

We’ll drive some sheep and poultry along as we go. I plan to spin and knit wool caps, socks and mittens before winter. On the way, we’ll cook pokeweed sprouts, dandelion greens, wild game of all kinds — whatever we find. We’ll dig sassafras roots for tea — it’s good for thinning the blood. We’ll find mushrooms, berries, nuts, papaws — and more.

Would you like to come along?

Folk art sculptures of such an adventure are on display in Boone Hospital’s main lobby and at the Boone County Historical Society. Old-timers said, "Cowards never left home, only lunatics made this trip."

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