Editorial — Wagon train a good lesson in U.S. history

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 11, 2019

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I went on a wagon train a couple of weeks ago.

Not a big one. Just 60 or 70 wagons and about that many people, as well.

The trip sort of started in St. Louis, although it was Independence before we joined the fellow travelers.

Sure, there were other ways to see the Midwest en route to California, but those would be much less adventurous. This way, one could see the country. The great plains. Mountains reaching high into the sky.

What do you expect on a wagon train? Mules and horses? Check. Beans and bacon? Check. Indian attacks? Check. A fellow traveler with a liking for the booze and a big mouth? Check. Some pretty hot women you already love? Check. Heartache? Check. Sickness? Check.

You get the story.

Or at least, you can get the story.

The wagon train wasn’t real. It was a book, “Finding Mr. Sunday,” written by Dick Ward of Advance. Get it. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

The writing is simple, no need to keep a dictionary handy to follow the author. I never did like writers who use rare words that few people know the meaning when a much more simple and understood word would do.

The writing is also addictive. The author leaves you hanging with almost every sentence. You want to know what is going to happen next. More than once, I stayed up later than usual just to read an extra page or two. I would wake the next morning wanting to read more. It’s that good.

Sure, the story is inspired. That means someone made it up. That’s all inspired is, something that is made up.

Anyway, Dick Ward did his research. He studied the time period, made trips to the areas his travelers would be taking. He went to museums in those places, taking notes. He knew the size of the wagon trains from the time he was writing, mostly during the post Civil War era. He knew about horses and mules, and the provisions families and singles took on their trek to the west. He knew where they stopped, how often, the dangers, and the delights of traveling by wagon train.

Call it a historical novel. The story is made up, but it really could have happened.

It also helped break some of the stereotypes I had of folks on a wagon train. I had always thought they were a bunch of hooligans going to prospect for gold, or really desperate families trying to claim some land of their own because their lives back East were a mess. There were plenty of the above, but more.

There were people with money, tired of living in the cities of the day, which were becoming cess pools with human waste. And as the Civil War was going on or had just ended, people were on the move — looking for a place with less divisiveness. One of the problems was some of those people who were causing problems east of the Mississippi were also headed West. The good folks had to travel farther west to get away.

One would think that everyone on a wagon train knew how to use a gun. Not so. Some were from cities, and never had the need for a weapon. How could they survive in such a wild environment? It wasn’t easy. But young Will Sunday and some of the other good folks — yes, most on the wagon trains were good folks — helped them get by.

The book is full of side stories and events. There’s even some love angles thrown in from time to time. It helped me to look at a time in our history from a different angle. Not just “facts” in a history book, but through the eyes of people who experienced it.

Like I said. Get the book. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

Mike Barnhardt is the editor of the Davie County Enterprise-Record.

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