Outlasting the Trail: The Story of Mary Powers' Oregon Trail Journey

Overview


Based on the dramatic events of a real family's overland crossing
Mary Rockwood Powers reluctantly left her comfortable life as a doctor's wife in Wisconsin in 1856, one of the many women whose destiny as a settler of the West was determined by her husband's wishes. Trading in her home for canvas roof and wheels, Mary, her husband, and their three children set out on the arduous trek westward to California.
When Dr. Powers' increasingly ...
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Overview


Based on the dramatic events of a real family's overland crossing
Mary Rockwood Powers reluctantly left her comfortable life as a doctor's wife in Wisconsin in 1856, one of the many women whose destiny as a settler of the West was determined by her husband's wishes. Trading in her home for canvas roof and wheels, Mary, her husband, and their three children set out on the arduous trek westward to California.
When Dr. Powers' increasingly unstable mental state threatens the family's safety, Mary is forced to leave her ideals of femininity behind. She takes fate into her own hands-stepping in as head of the household to help her family outlast the trail.
In Outlasting the Trail author Mary Barmeyer O'Brien uses Mary Rockwood Powers' letters as a starting point to further illuminate this remarkable woman's story. It is a story full of dangers, misfortunes, and an appreciation for the smallest of blessings. By constructing a rich inner life for her characters, O'Brien seeks greater truths about what it meant to be a woman, a girl, or a husband facing the obstacles and trials of the trail to California. Based on the heartrending struggle of a real family, this novel brings to life a fascinating slice of American history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762730650
  • Publisher: Globe Pequot Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2005
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 1,403,141
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author


Mary Barmeyer O'Brien was born and raised in Missoula, Montana. She is the author of three previous books about pioneers on the overland trails: Toward the Setting Sun: Pioneer Girls Traveling the Overland Trails, Heart of the Trail: The Stories of Eight Wagon Train Women, and Into the Western Winds: Pioneer Boys Traveling the Overland Trails. She has also written a biography for young readers called Jeannette Rankin: Bright Star in the Big Sky, and her magazine articles for both children and adults have appeared in many national magazines. She lives in Polson, Montana.
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Read an Excerpt


The night was black, blacker than any night she'd ever known, when Mary Powers opened her eyes. After a moment, she realized the dead weight pressing down on her chest was her husband's arm thrown across her like a fallen log. She could tell from his slow breathing and his quiet warmth that he was sound asleep. Curled against her other side, little Celia sighed sweetly and turned, pressing a sharp elbow into Mary's ribs. She could hear Cephas and Sarah shifting restlessly as another night stretched endlessly to the morning. Quick tears came to Mary's eyes. It would be hours until the sun lightened the skies along the Platte--hours she would spend once again crushed in the covered wagon bed, listening to the rustling in the grasses she was always sure were the Sioux coming to add more terror to this horrid trip west.

Suddenly irritated, she lifted the Doctor's heavy arm off her chest. Whatever had the man been thinking to drag his family to this godforsaken wilderness? How dare he put them in this alarming predicament, and then overnight become a stranger to her?

Something moved outside the wagon's thin canvas sides. She strained to hear. Certainly the dreaded Sioux wouldn't make so much noise if they were planning a raid. It must be the horses, she told herself, but her heart beat fast. She buried her icy hands beneath the covers and tried to peer across the children's heads through the opening in the canvas. Nothing but utter darkness. She listened again, and silently began to pray, beseeching God to keep her family safe.

Already Mary had lost track of the days. It seemed as though she and her family had been following this muddy track for decades, but in reality it couldn't have been be more than a few weeks. The days blended into each other as surely as the colors in a fading sunset as the wagon jostled over every stone this everlasting trail put in their way. Her smooth hands were red and coarse from scrubbing dishes in the cloudy river water. Her complexion, she was sure, was tanned and wind-burned, although she hadn't had the courage to fetch her looking glass and find out for certain.

This trip had changed more than just her skin. Even her prayers were different--desperate pleas for courage and strength instead of the joyful thanksgiving she had offered back home. Mary wondered what her mother would think of her stained calico dress, already patched where she had caught it on the rough wagon seat. Had all those years of careful schooling and lessons in gracious living come to this? She ran her fingers over her windblown hair, which she had jabbed into place with hairpins yesterday. It felt dusty, like the rest of her, and matted. She must take time to brush it out. She wished she could find a secluded place to wash more than just her face, too, but the lack of vegetation made the most private of endeavors a public spectacle.

At last the eastern sky glowed faintly, and Mary extracted herself from her cramped place under the dew-dampened quilts. She stepped down the wooden wheel spokes to the ground, her bare toes silent on the splintery oak. She was the first one stirring in the small camp, and she stretched her slender arms above her head and breathed deeply. Then, pulling her shawl closer to fend off the chill, she stood for a moment, watching the pink sunrise hide the sparkling stars.

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