Book Jacket


rank 5599
word count 35712
date submitted 16.09.2008
date updated 02.09.2010
genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
classification: universal

To Truckee's Trail

Celia Hayes

Fifty men, women & children
Eleven wagons
2,000 miles of empty wilderness

And nothing to depend upon... except each other


In the year of 1844, a party of fifty men, women and children set out for California. These are their stories; the doctor-diarist and party co-leader, the old mountain-man who guided them, the feisty woman with her brood of children who means to rejoin her husband in California, and the taciturn wagon master … They walked two thousand miles, across trackless plain and desert, fording rivers and climbing mountains. They found a new trail through the wilderness, hoisted their wagons up a sheer cliff, were caught by the winter snows and faced starvation, with nothing to rely on but their own courage and trust in each other ... but all were inexorably drawn to Truckee’s Trail, and the dream of a prosperous life in the fair land, beyond the rocky mountain pass!

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Third November, 1843… With a heavy heart and much trepidation, I am resov’d to leave this place, and remove to California, first for the sake of my Dearest Darling….


Under a pool of golden lamplight in the silent bedroom, John Townsend carefully uncorked the bottle of ink in his portable writing desk, balanced across his knees, and wrote in his tiny, careful hand:

“I fear for her health above all else. She has a delicate constitution, and cannot bear another cold winter, or disease-wracked summer such as this last without permanent impairment. Moses has been all talk this year past about the marvels of fabled California and its wonderfully mild and temperate climate. He is impatient for emigration and adventure and swears hourly to embark in company with Allan and Sarah M. I think it is the talk of impetuous youth but he is of that age to venture upon such bold enterprise. Of late though, I have begun to believe that such transportation may be my Dearest Darling’s only hope of recovery to full health. In any case, she would not bear the thought of Moses’ attempting such a perilous journey himself and would fret herself into an early grave…” John crossed out the last three words, and wrote in “a decline…”

On the bedside table, a full kettle simmered over a burning spirit lamp. Steam hissed from the spout. John set aside the writing desk. A heavy blanket was tented over the head of the bedstead, and the head and shoulders of the woman sleeping fitfully underneath, a basin of water settled onto a pillow close to her head, a basin in which floated a few drops of camphor oil, their efficacy nearly spent with the cooling of the water. John emptied the basin into the slops jar, and filled it again with steaming water, and a fresh installment of camphor droplets.

John regarded her face, glistening with moisture and still flushed pink with the remnants of fever, or maybe the heat of healing steam under the blanket tent that lent a spurious look of health to Elizabeth’s face. Her blond hair and the neck of her high-buttoned nightgown were soaked with the sweat of a broken fever. He bent an ear towards her breathing; easy, without the gasp and wheeze that frightened him down to his soul with the threat, that her weak chest and frail constitution might take his Elizabeth away from him and leave him alone in this world.

He put back the blanket over his wife’s face, and the newly-steaming bowl of water, and caught a glimpse of himself in the dressing-table mirror; a broad-shouldered man with a merry, and bluntly pugnacious face. His neck-cloth was loosened, and the fine broadcloth coat that his Elizabeth insisted that he always wear, being that he was a doctor, and had a position to keep up, set aside. His hair also stuck up in rebellious points and curls; he had run his hands through it too often during this latest crisis. Someone tapped cautiously on the bedroom door and after a moment, opened it just wide enough to look around.

“Mose, boy, you should be in bed. It’s past two in the morning,” John chided his brother in law. Young Moses hesitated in the doorway, a gawky boy of seventeen not quite grown to his own strength, young enough to look heartbreakingly like his older sister with the same oval features and fair coloring.

“You’re still awake, Doctor John,” Moses said, trying so hard to sound gruff and manly “Is she better?”

“She’s sleeping easily; I think the crisis is past. I sent Mrs. Montgomery off to her own home hours since.

John often had to speak comfortable and reassuring words to frightened relatives; sometimes they were the words that they wanted to hear and sometimes as it was now, the plain truth. John was glad of that for Moses’ sake. Not only was his Elizabeth a dear sister but next thing to a mother to Moses, since their parents had died ten years ago in one of the fever epidemics that swept Stark County, in Ohio.

They were but newly married then, but the best established of all the Schallenberger’s children, and so Moses was left to them, a boy of six years and all but a flesh and blood son to John. Sometimes, he reflected without grief or resentment, that Moses was the best that he would have wished from any child that Elizabeth might have born to him. She had brought him a son without the agony and risk that childbirth for her would entail, and Moses was a good lad, straight and fearless and honest. John was well-content with his family; or would be if Elizabeth could only be well again, fit and rosy-cheeked, and riding a fine horse as recklessly as she once used to do.

“Until next time,” Moses stepped a little into the bedroom, and looked at John, eye to eye. “This miasma, these epidemics of fever; Mr. Marsh writes about the climate in California, being bountifully temperate and healthy.  If we could but remove her from them…

“I know, Moses. I read the same letters, and hear the same idle talk.” John kept his voice low, and rubbed his forehead. His eyes felt like they were full of sand. “But it is a long, dangerous journey, and to a foreign country, at that.”

“For now,” replied Moses. “So was Texas, once. Allen talks of nothing else, than the riches there to be had, should it fall into our hands, too.

It is not in our hands yet, no matter how loudly Allen Montgomery boasts of it. And it is still a wild and savage place…” a jaw-cracking yawn sent John’s thoughts in all directions,

“Sorry, Moses. I have not slept above twenty minutes, these last two days. I know you are resolved on this adventure, but you are a young man with no responsibilities, no household to think on. I have both… I must consider carefully how to best meet them. And your sister must be considered, also.” Another huge yawn felt as if it would split John’s face in two.

“We’ll talk about it in the morning. Well, ‘tis morning. Then after I have slept.” He clapped Moses affectionately on the shoulder. “Go to your bed, lad. You must be as much in need of rest as I.”

“Good night, then, Doctor John,” Moses slipped away, drawing the door softly closed behind him. John yawned again. For the last three days, and two nights, he had slept, if he slept at all, nearly upright in the bedroom arm-chair. The armchair, cushioned with a flattened and grimy pillow and a single blanket, beckoned to him as an old friend but under the camphor-steam saturated blanket, Elizabeth stirred fitfully. In the silent house, in that sickroom, that bare movement and her thready whisper sounded as loudly as a shout.


He lifted up the blanket; in the dim pool of lantern-light, her pupils were huge and dark. He took her hand in his own.

“I’m here, Dearest Liz.”

She looked at him with a queer, fey expression, as if she were talking in her sleep, and whispered, her fever-cracked lips barely moving.

We can’t let Moses go alone,” And then her eyelids fluttered closed, and her hand slackened in his. She slept again as if exhausted by that slight effort. John sat back in his chair and after a moment’s thought, opened the writing desk again. He uncorked the tiny inkbottle, and wrote;

I do not think of myself as a gambler, but perhaps I am so, to think of selling my house and practice, and to risk our lives and fortune on this venture, not for such earthly riches as such men do covet, but as a means that my Dearest Darling may recover her health and strength.


Angeline Morrison Letter #1

20th January,1844

Writ from St. Joseph

Missouri Territory,

I write imploring an answer from you with great speed, as My Dear Husband has resolved upon departing from our dwelling here, and embarking upon the trail for distant California in the spring. His friend, Allan Montgomery has long been preparing his own household for transportation hither; My Dearest tells me that he (Mr. Montgomery) has spent most of the year previous preparing necessary gear and supplies, and is most impatient for the trail season to open. Mrs. Montgomery, who lived in our household since the sad loss of her parents and was only recently engaged in marriage, is exceeding downcast by his plans. 

    As for myself, I am apprehensive but unlike my dear Sarah, I have the wit to keep them to myself. Indeed, my Dearest’s stated reason for transportation to California is that he fears for my health, so it would be most ungracious of me- as well as casting aspersions upon his knowledge of medicine – to object. I cannot deny that I have unwell for most of the last four years; it is most vexing for me to never be completely recovered from one ailment before falling to the next. To my Dearest, it is doubly so when none of his skills can keep the malignant vapors of summer or the bitter cold of winter from affecting me so deeply.

    But, Angeline, although his concern is real, I suspect it is but a pretext for indulging the restless spirit that has moved him ever on, from where he was born, to Ohio and on to Missouri Territory. When he first came to Stark County to practice medicine, it seem’d most astonishing that he had lived in so many places before. And it almost seemed natural that upon the deaths of my beloved parents and assuming the care of my brother, that we would of course uproot ourselves and move to St. Joseph. There were many doctors practicing there, and it seemed the most natural distraction from the deaths of my dear mother and father, that we should seek solace in new horizons!  

I had thought we were most content in St. Joseph, but of late he has seem’d restless, and uninterested in civic matters that once were his most lively interest. The question of the peculiar institution also vexes him much, although he dislikes to speak of it, for he fears alienating friends and associates who do not share his feelings and dreads a time when he might have to voice them openly on the matter. Such a tangle… and I had thought my own poor condition was the cause, but now I suspect otherwise.

    I shall write to you once more, before we depart onto the trail. Please write to me and tell me of the trivial doings, and little domesticities that I will soon leave behind.

Ever thy friend



 From Dr. Townsend’s diary: “Twenty-sixth of February, 1844: Items for the wagon, purchased from local merchants of excellent repute, represented by them to be of superior quality and sufficient for the journey: plain flour, eight hundred pounds. Salt bacon, six hundred pounds. Coffee, fifty pounds. Tea, twenty pounds. Sugar, eighty pounds. Salt, forty pounds. One barrel hard tack. Cask vinegar. Two boxes dried apples, the same of apricots. Two crocks pickles. One hundred pounds rice, the same of dried beans. Small box salt cod. Fifteen small jars of honey and preserves. Two bottles medicinal whisky….


I have had our wagon fitted out, at some small expense, to make it more commodious and comfortable. A false floor is installed, some eighteen inches above the wagon bed, below which certain stores and gear may be stowed out of the way. Three large flat-topped trunks are arranged at the rear, with a heavy mattress on top, which serves as a most comfortable bed. We have also attached a seat on metal springs to the front, which may afford a more comfortable ride, and sealed the canvas cover against rain with a generous coating of linseed oil. Mr. Montgomery has made similar arrangements in his own wagon

Item - purchased for the journey, one canvas tent, and a set of tin plates and such for use on the trail…

I made the purchase of some fine china silk fabric, with an eye towards selling it in California at a profit.


Fifth of March, 1844: Arranged the hire of a drover, one Francis Deland, who journeyed hence from French Canada and is desirous of working his passage to California for board and bread. We intend to depart a week from today, having reciev’d notice of a large assembly at Kanesville, up-river in the Iowa Territory, intent on Oregon, our intention being to accompany them as far as Ft. Hall. 


Eleventh of March, 1844… we depart upon the morrow, Elizabeth and Moses and I, in company with our close friends, Allan and Sarah Montgomery. May good fortune guide us, and our Heavenly Father attend and bless our endeavors.  It is so written: ‘For the Lord Thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water. Of fountains and depths that spring out of the valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey; a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness; thou shalt not lack anything in it.

In the early dark, just as the pale dawn lightened the sky, the oxen stamped restlessly, and blew out their hay-scented breath, and Allen Montgomery hardly bothered to lower his voice,

“Good lord, what’s keeping the woman? Fix your bonnet and come away, your ladyship. Time’s a-wasting. We should be on the road to Kanesville by now.” John bent his head over his saddle girth, pretending to check the adjustment of his stirrups and tactfully affected not to hear but out of the corner of his eye could see the embarrassment on Moses’ face. Moses was no-doubt coloring up like a girl. He admired Allen enormously, and tried to copy his manner; a thing of which John did not wholly approve, although he wisely kept from saying so. John also liked Allen, even if he was the most hot-headed and tactless man in three counties.  Francis, hunkered patiently down on his heels next to the lead ox gave no indication of impatience, or even of having understood.

His pretty and feisty wife, little Sarah Armstrong she had been, orphaned at fifteen and come to work for John and Elizabeth until she had married the handsome gunsmith, snapped

“She’s saying goodbye to the house. House… you know, that place which women keep, until their husbands drag them away?”

John strenuously pretended not to have heard that, either. Just as well that the two of them were well-matched in being about equally tactless.  

He himself had sold the house and practice, furniture and fittings, everything that could not be packed in straw, or stuffed into a trunk in the wagon. Which aside from some bits and pieces, amounted to a case of surgical implements, his books and Masonic regalia and the set of china that Elizabeth had inherited from her great-grandmother and an assortment of trinkets, bedding, linens and clothing.

Everything else that had adorned their home, everything dear and familiar, from the pictures on the wall and the inlaid bedroom furniture, to the parlor piano that had given his Elizabeth so much joy, and pride in showing off their home to her friends, all to be left behind, all now someone else’s property. Oddly enough, it gave him a feeling of curious relief, a feeling of freedom, of being able to float unbound by material possessions, like that of the early monks, with their attention focused on the divine.

A few hesitant piano notes floated out from the empty house, a stave of Mozart, clear and pure as a trickle of spring water. Allen swore under his breath, and gave some vent to his exasperation by slapping his hat against his knee.

“I’ll go and fetch…” Moses ventured, miserably embarrassed, just as Elizabeth appeared in the doorway, like a ghost in a dark stuff travel dress. She tied her bonnet strings neatly under her bravely lifted chin, and pulled the door gently closed.

“I’m ready,” she said, simply, and took John’s hand. Moses reached down from the wagon-seat, and between the two of them they boosted her up and over the great wooden wheel—one foot on a spoke, the other to the footrest, before she scrambled over the side of the wagon-box in a flurry of skirts and calico petticoats, to seat herself next to her brother, her hands folded on her lap. She nodded to him when she was settled, and he swung up into the saddle; John’s horse pranced sideways a little, tossing his ugly grey head until the bit jingled.

John swore, under his breath. He regretted selling the trusty old gelding, Pouncer, who had faithfully carried him or drawn his trap around his medical rounds in St. Joseph, and before that in Stark County, for the best part of a decade. Pouncer had faultless manners, gentle enough for Liz to ride, even. But John had quietly listened to the counsel of outfitters and merchants who dealt in trade with the yearly caravans to Santa Fe, and understood immediately that Pouncer was too old, and unsuited to a rugged journey through wilderness. He would need something young, strong, and spirited, and the new grey gelding was all that, but John hadn’t warmed sufficiently to give it a name or think of it as anything but “the Ugly Grey”. He disciplined Ugly Grey, and waved his hat in the air.

Allen cracked his whip, and whistled shrilly to his team, and they leaned stolidly into their yokes. Francis stood up without any apparent urgency, and seemed to whisper to the lead team beasts… then he whistled too, a low whistle, and all three yoke hitched to the Townsend wagon stepped forward, almost eagerly. With a great creak and groan, the wagon lurched forward, the linseed-proofed canvas cover swaying like a bellied sail. John reined in Ugly Grey, who seemed determined to prance like a racehorse and gaily called up to his wife, who looked ahead with somber mien.

“The greatest journey starts with a single step, Dearest Liz… and I vow that we have just taken that step!”

That, as he hoped, coaxed a smile, and she called back,

“’Tis a very… jolting step, Dearest… can I hope to become more accustomed to it?” She was, John noticed with approval, not looking back. Brave Liz.

“If not,” he promised expansively, “I shall buy you a horse to ride, before we depart from Kanesville. I had planned on purchasing another horse, and two more yoke, depending on how the rules of our party with respect to a herd of spare beasts are decided.”

“Why would that be?” Elizabeth reached up and straightened her bonnet, as a particularly deep rut jarred the whole wagon again, “Wouldn’t we wish to take as many extra animals as we can afford?”

“Then we have the extra burden of herding them along behind, and finding extra food. It might be worth the extra effort, or it might not be. We should have another horse, regardless. Mr. Chiles ever spoke of being able to hunt, along the trail.” 

Ugly Grey pranced ahead, giving John the opportunity of taking a good look at his three yoke, considered so carefully before purchase for strength and docility, working together under the burden of moving a heavy-laden wagon. They moved well under Francis’s direction, he thought; they merely walked, easily pulling their burden without any special effort. He rode ahead of Francis, striding next to the lead yoke, and the Frenchman caught his eye and gave a smile and a mock-salute, tipping his hat-brim with the stock of the whip that he seemed to hardly use.

A good man, that; John could forgive practically anything of a man who was good with animals, who ruled them with a light hand. He had doctored animals in his time, as any medical man must, when a man’s livelihood might depend on the health of his horse or cow, as much as on his own.

Ahead of them, Montgomery’s team plodded stolidly on, around the long gentle bend in the road that paralleled the river, north and west of town, the crate of chickens lashed to the back of it bouncing to every jolt of wheels, accompanied by noisy complaints and flurries of chicken feathers. Allen’s single horse and milk cow were tethered on long leads, side by side to the back of his wagon.

They would soon be out of the township, out among strangers who knew them not, floating as free as bubbles on the river, having cut the connection that bound them to a farm, a place, a town; bubbles on the river-surface, joining with other bubbles, and drifting purposefully west. John reined Ugly Grey back again, and fell in beside his wagon, and smiled at Liz:

“I wonder how long Mrs. Montgomery will preserve her chickens on the trail… they do not seem in a humor conducive to laying eggs.”

“Chickens are adaptable,” Elizabeth replied, with a ghost of her old spirit,” They will provide eggs, or a good chicken dinner, one or the other. Sarah… Mrs. Montgomery did not consent to this… expedition in the same spirit that I did, my Dear Doctor. She cannot forget how her family was dragged hither and thither, how her mother protested and her father insisted, and they moved on from one home to another, until they both perished and she was left in our care… and then out of her marriage to Mr. Montgomery, had her very own little house… but on Mr. Montgomery’s insistence, she must leave it. And I fear that perhaps we did not serve her truly as friends, with her true interests at heart when we encouraged her to accept Mr. Montgomery’s offer of marriage.”

“He’s a good man, with a good trade, and a handsome devil to boot,” John said, “A man like that must have a wife, and she was lucky to make such a fine match.”

“Oh, certainly,” Elizabeth replied, with a strained smile, “But a woman can be fortunate in her marriage, and yet not be wholly happy in it.”

“Are we happy, Liz?” Impulsively, John stood in his stirrups, and reached out to take her gloved hand in his, over the turning and mud-caked wheel. “Are we truly happy, to the end of this trail and all the world encompassed in it?”

“We are,” Elizabeth half rose, leaning down to briefly grasp his hand and the wagon rolled over another rut, and she sat down heavily—which knocked her bonnet askew once more. 

“I am happy, and you are my husband. Where you go, I go also… and so must Sarah Montgomery with her husband. But she is too high-spirited to submit gracefully when she must, and too young in marriage to know how to appeal to his good nature and change his mind.”

“I cannot imagine anything to make Allen change his mind, once he is set on it,” Moses spoke up sturdily, “Not even Sarah, and I look on her as fondly as another sister. But wives are not supposed to question their husbands,” and he looked abashed and puzzled when John and Elizabeth exchanged a wry look and burst out laughing.

And the sun rose at their backs, brushing the newly green treetops with a touch of gold, and sending elongated shadows of team and wagons, horse and rider running ahead of them, stretching out towards the west.


From E.S. Patterson Interview, University of California Local History Archival Project 1932:

“My name is Edward Sidney Patterson, and I was born near Batavia, Clermont County Ohio, in September of 1837, to Samuel Laurens Patterson, and Isabella Hitchcock Patterson. Which would make me 95 and old enough to know better, you would think. I had three older brothers and an older sister, when my father decided that we should go west to seek a better fortune for us in California. He left in the spring of 1841 to go out in advance of the family.

He sent back a letter to us, which we did not receive until mid-summer of 1843, to let us know that he had arrived safely and that my mother should sell the farm and all the fittings and prepare to follow him. In fall of the year that he had departed Ohio, my mother had given birth to my little sister, Sarabeth, whom we called Sadie, and her own father, whom we called “Paw-Paw” had come to live with us.

Paw-Paw had been in the fur trade as a young man and we were given to understand that he had traveled extensively in the west. In fact, Paw-Paw had had fixed it for Pa to travel out to California through connections and friendships which he had among the Santa Fe traders. Ma was not pleased about this development: she thought he was of a light character, and was deeply unhappy about this whole prospect.

But in obedience to my father, she sold the farm, and accepted Paw-Paw’s advice about a wagon and necessary supplies. She and Paw-Paw knew through friends, that there was a party of emigrants assembling in the spring of the following year at Kanesville, in the Iowa Territory, intending for Oregon and California, and so we made preparations to join them. She took some small things that she treasured, and fitted out a stout farm wagon that Paw-Paw approved of with a canvas cover. She had four yoke of oxen, and a milk cow from the farm.

She bought sufficient supplies for the journey out of what she had for selling the home place, and took us to Iowa to take the trail to California in obedience to my father’ s directions. Ma was a tiny woman; she would have come hardly to your chin, missy, but there wasn’t a thing she feared in this world…  


Some weeks later, when the Montgomery and Townsend wagons were still a little short of Kanesville, the Ugly Grey threw a shoe, and lost it in the deep mud. It had rained all morning, but now the clouds were breaking up into innocent fluffy white clumps scattered across a clear and pale sky. The two wagons had been much inconvenienced by rain, since it made the road a swampy, muddy morass, and brought the river far enough up to cover the trunks of trees on the riverbank. Francis and Allen Montgomery waded knee-deep in churned muck, and they were forced to the expedient of keeping dry firewood in the wagon, so that it would burn well enough in the evenings for Elizabeth and Sarah to cook a meal over it.

John dismounted immediately, almost the minute that Ugly Grey began to favor his left rear leg, but there was no finding the missing shoe in the mud, not with the way other wagon wheels and other hoofed draft animals had turned it over and over again. Allen and Francis halted the wagons, while he did a quick search. The driver of a heavy horse-team dray wagon coming the other way saw them by the side of the road, and called out.

“What kind of trouble are you having, friend?”

“My horse lost a shoe… How far are we from Kanesville? Can you recommend us to a blacksmith there?” On the clear horizon ahead of them hung a hazy smear of wood smoke, too large for a single farmstead.

“Not far… three, four miles…  That where you’re bound?”

“For today… we mean to join an emigrant company there, for California. Did you just come from there? Do you know where they are camped?”

“Out west of town, in a grove of trees by the river, waiting for the river to go down,” Replied the drayman, slapping his reins, “And there’s a good few blacksmiths there… but there’s a man with a little forge set up half-a-mile back, if you ain’t keen on walking all the way to Kanesville.”

“Thank you, for your good words,” John tipped his hat, and told Allen and Francis, “Heard that? I’ll stop at this roadside forge, and catch up with you at the campsite.”


Just as the drayman had said, there was a wagon and tent back from the muddy road, in the middle of a little grove, with a well-established fire in a scratch enclosure of blackened bricks, sending up a straight line of smoke. Half-dozen cattle browsed in the damp meadow close by. A solitary man in a leather apron worked over an anvil; they could hear the clear regular ring of metal on metal, long before they saw him.

“If I don’t catch up on the road, I’ll meet you in camp,” John smiled at his wife, silently resolving to buy another horse, after enduring the constant lurch and jolt of the wagon for the last half-mile. He felt bruised and sore to his very bones after just this little way, whereas poor Liz had been patiently enduring it for weeks; So much for the comfort of the metal-sprung wagon seat. He unhitched Ugly Grey from the back, waved to Allan and Francis, and walked into the trees to the little campsite.

“Good morning,” John called, when he was in earshot, “My horse lost a shoe a half-mile back. Might you be of assistance?”

“I can.” The smith set his bit of work back into the fire, and turned to look at John. He was a big, grim-looking fellow with the enormously muscled shoulders and forearms of his trade, his shirt-sleeves rolled up, and leather apron flecked with tiny cinder burns. His face and hands were blackened with sooty grime and smoke, appearing like a gargoyle mask fringed with chin-whiskers, out of which a pair of clear, pale grey eyes the color of water sized up John and his limping horse. Something nudged at John’s thigh, and the smith remarked placidly,

“Don’t you be moving sudden-like, she’ll think you mean harm.

Quite startled, John looked down; not very far down at that, at one of the largest dogs he had ever seen, a huge fawn-colored mastiff bitch with a dark face. She sat quietly at his feet, regarding him with intelligent golden eyes.

“Dog,” said the smith quietly, and made a quick gesture with his fingers. The mastiff bitch nudged John again, as if reminding him to be on his best behavior then, because she would have an eye on him, and obediently trotted away to settle herself underneath the wagon. From there she still regarded John and her master with those unsettlingly intelligent golden eyes. She had a clownish white splotch on her nose, and another at the end of her tail, and all of her toes on each foot were white, as if she wore dainty gloves.

“Elisha Stephens, late of the Pottawattamie Indian Agency” her master introduced himself. “That’s Dog; and you would be?”

“John Townsend… Doctor John Townsend, late of St. Joseph, Missouri, soon to be on the trail to fabled California.” John extended his hand, but Stephens regarded him levelly and did not respond in kind.

“Beg pardon, my hands is powerful dirty. California? Heard me some talk. Tie the hoss up to this here tree, so’s I can get to work.” 

Stephens rummaged among his tools, and a box of metal oddments, tossing a roughly shaped horse-shoe into the heart of the fire. He worked the bellows until the coals glowed cherry-red, incandescent. While the metal softened, glowing as red as the coals, Stephens shoved his shoulder into Ugly Grey’s barrel, and expertly forced the gelding to allow him to pick up his unshod foot, and rasp off some of the hoof with a great metal file. John watched with interest; this was a man who knew his trade.  Ugly Grey’s eyes rolled nervously, showing some white, but not as much as expected.

When the shoe was softened enough, Stephens took the tongs and brought it out of the fire, laying it on his small anvil, and deftly pounding it into the right shape. He plunged it into a tub of dirty grey water, which bubbled up in great gouts of steam. When the new shoe had cooled enough, he took it up, filling his mouth with nails and hefted a small hammer in one hand. Just as before, he shoved his powerful shoulder into Ugly Grey, and took up the horses’ unshod hoof. While bracing Ugly Grey’s hoof in his leather-aproned lap, he spat nails into his free hand, one by one, and deftly tapped them into place, securing the new shoe.

“What do I owe you, Mr. Stephens?” John spoke with honest appreciation.

It was one of the greatest pleasures in life, to watch an expert do their work, especially if they were so very good that it all appeared effortless. And Stephens was truly that, as serene and self-contained as great artists are in the middle of their creations.

“Nothing,” Stephens’ pale, unreadable eyes gleamed in his dark face. “Pay me back with doctoring, on the trail mebbe. I’m away to California myself, in a couple days.”

“But why have you not joined the encampment with the other emigrants?” John asked, surprised out of countenance for once.

“Not one for crowds,” Stephens replied simply.

“Then… my most sincere thanks and appreciation,” John nodded.” Most certainly, we shall meet again, and I am glad of that. A blacksmith is a good man to have along on the trail.”

Stephens nodded inscrutably, and replied

“So’s a doctor. But we won’t be leaving for a good two weeks.”

“Why?” John was about to put his foot in stirrup, but something of the certainty in Stephens’ simple statement held him back.

“Grass is not grown tall enough yet. Three weeks.”

“You’ve been out on the trail before?”

“Some.” Stephens answered, “Some there. Some on the Santa Fe.”

He didn’t seem inclined to elaborate, or even feel the need to. John swung up into his saddle, and said

“I’ll look forward to seeing you again… by the time the grass is grown tall enough.”

“I’ll be there,” Stephens replied.





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Elizabeth Kathleen wrote 256 days ago

This is a nice book. It has many elements that make reading interesting. I was only able to read the first chapter due to time constraints, but it appears to be a fine book in the making. I found something you might want to change. In her first letter it says, "I have unwell for a few years". I think you probably meant "I have been unwell". Again, this is a nice book.
God bless you!!!
Elizabeth Kathleen
"If Children are Cheaper by the Dozen, Can I Get a Discount on Six?"
"The Sticks and Stones of Hannah Jones"

Vowles wrote 291 days ago

You have managed to capture the style of the era amazingly well, this is a very enjoyable read.

RichardBard wrote 974 days ago

Hi Celia!

Since you haven’t been to Authonomy for a while, I hope it’s okay that I’m sending this through your book comment:

I’d like to thank you for backing BRAINRUSH (a Thriller) last year. Because of you it hit the Authonomy Number-1 slot, attracted an agent, and landed a film option. Now that’s a brain-rush! The formal book launch is September 1st and the sequel will be released in December. None of this would have been possible without your help. So, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

Richard Bard, BRAINRUSH

PS. If you want a good laugh, check out the temporary book-trailer video on the BRAINRUSH website. It’s there as a placeholder for the upcoming professional video. The current one features children and it’s guaranteed to make you smile! And yes, the younger kid on the screen is really me. You can see the video at The link is also on my Authonomy profile page. While you’re there, check out the “Feel the Rush” promotion that will get you BRAINRUSH plus 2 FREE thrillers from the Kindle Top-20 PAID Bestseller list – yes, really!

TalulaJane wrote 1325 days ago

I love the combination of journal entries made by John and the imagery of his anxiety for his loved one. The dialogue seems to be pretty on the spot (from what I know, which is very little) of the times in which this story were to have taken place. I enjoyed it thoroughly- like a trip backwards in time! Backed.
The Darkwood Tales: Demouri's Defeat

SusieGulick wrote 1374 days ago

Dear Celia, Well, I've backed your last 2 books & have discovered your other 4, so will back them. :) You pitch, journals, diaries, & letters are totally impressive of the migration from Missouri to Truckee (I was raised in Chico & my mom in Alturas). What a work of art you have done & let me peak into this part of history. :) Love, Susie :) p.s. Hope you'll back my 2 memoir books. :)

zan wrote 1374 days ago

To Truckee's Trail

Celia Hayes

I loved the intimacy of the letters and diary entries, and the 1843/1844 setting was very credible. Nice change of pace compared to modern times with our instant communications and so on - of course many pros and cons, but this has been delightful so far. I found this readable, interesting, and I like the simplicity yet forceful nature of your overall plot. Happy to have backed this.

Colin Normanshaw wrote 1434 days ago

A real feel for its era. This should do well with its target audience. Backed with pleasure. Colin

Celia Hayes wrote 1442 days ago

Thank you, CM - I had fun with working out what the characters were like - they are based (most of them!) on real people of which only a very little is known - so I had to take that known %1 and spin the other %99 out of it!

Celia Hayes

crazy mama wrote 1442 days ago

Your style is poetic and gentle. Allowed me to feel John's distressI love this genre. Am so impressed with how well you interlace history and fiction. Beautifully written and happily shelved. Good luck with this!

Sly80 wrote 1447 days ago

John's fear for his wife's health is evident from the start, 'the gasp and wheeze that frightened him down to his soul'. The use of language here is exceptional, 'a jaw-cracking yawn sent John's thoughts in all directions', and it never once moves outside the time and the setting.

The characters have diverse reasons for heading to California, some of these are tangled, as reasons tend to be. The practical measures are more straightforward, the provisions, the wagons, the eye to the future with luxury goods. The first travellers we meet are an interesting collection, John - a level-headed doctor, Elizabeth - his frail wife, Moses - an impressionable and naïve young brother, Allan - 'the most hot-headed and tactless man in three counties', and Sarah - his sassy little wife with a smart mouth. Oh, and then there's the French Canadian, Francis. A small party journeying to meet up with a larger group, 'floating free as bubbles on the river'. I have to say that the entire scene with the blacksmith was a particularly stunning cameo.

I've read and been told some tales of the trail westwards and the terrible sufferings that were endured. It's a brilliant premise for a novel that will get deep inside each character and dig out their strengths and weaknesses, and wring the reader to the bone at the same time. You clearly demonstrate that you can do just that, Celia, with your highly talented writing ... backed.

Possible Nits: 'Good night, then, Doctor John' needs a stop (period) at the end, not a comma. 'arm-chair ... armchair' both versions are used.

Jim Darcy wrote 1464 days ago

This has a real ring of authenticity about it. you describe well and your characters are well rounded and convince. This has the makings of a fine tale and I would certainly read more. Jim Darcy The Firelord's Crown

soutexmex wrote 1470 days ago

I do like that short pitch. But that long pitch? I think you can end that with some kind of question to draw in your casual passerby reader. Being Authonomy's #1 commentator and amateur pitch doctor, trust me, you have mastered this basic sales technique to grab the casual reader. That's how you climb in ranking to gather more exposure and comments to better your novel. SHELVED!

I can use your comments on my book when you get the chance. Cheers!

The Obergemau Key
Authonomy's #1 rated commentator

Celia Hayes wrote 1472 days ago

I always wondered why there weren't more stories on here set in early America. it was such a fascinating time in our history. I like the style you use in this and it's very easy to read. You feel the hope and sense of adventure that you know these people had to have. Your details are also good, I felt like i was right there with them. I think you've done a wonderful job with this, it's entertaining and educational. Your characters feel real and I'm willing to follow them to the end of the exhausting journey. Best of luck with this.


I'm not much of a proofreader or editor so I don't look for typos, mistakes, etc. I like to read as a reader, and this was very enjoyable.

Thank you so much, Melissa - it was a wonderful story, and I didn't have to create very much out of my imagination ... well, the diary and the letters ... and the conversation that the characters had, as well as what I could make of them out of the very little that is known for sure. The readers who have read the book entire have loved it extravagantly, and I also wonder why there are so very few stories like theirs. Imagine, having all you own in a little wagon, and taking your family - and looking out at 2-thousand miles of howling wilderness...
We need stories, and the story of the Townsend-Stephens Party is one of them.

Celia Hayes wrote 1472 days ago

To Trukee's Trail:


As John writes his entry for 3 November 1843 the passage in italics carries the language register of the period and this immediately stamps on you book integrity to period, while also sowing the first seeds of the ensuing drama.
John's fear of losing his sister, Elizabeth, is not over-dramatised or melodramatic but everyman's moment on the brink of desolation who has loved his close relative and been loved; so I was soon attuned to your style - integrity to historical backdrop, empathy with your characters; as any one of us might have empathy with a close relative whose health gave serious concern.
The other characters are seamlessly woven into the story through very natural dialogue, the whole carrying an air of realism and enabling the reader to find the story plausible enough to enter as a participant.
To the end of Chapter 1, the prose, storytelling and focus all bear the hand of an experienced writer and this, combined with the interesting premise makes me want to abide with this book to the end.

(A Child from the Wishing Well)

Thank you so much, Ray - everyone tells me that I have a very good ear for period dialog and style. (although Elizabeth is John's wife - not sister)

Celia Hayes wrote 1472 days ago

This is a truly enjoyable read. I vacationed in Truckee once so I know the heighth of those mountains they have ahead of them. You have a good mix of characters. The dialogue and different accents sound authentic. I wish you had written a prologue to explain how you came to possess these letters (I'm assuming they're real; if not, you sure fooled me). Either way, this is a good read. I would curl up in a chair in front of a fire and continue to read this. I’m adding it to my shelf. Burgio (Grain of Salt).

Thanks, Burgio - the letters are actually made-up! The diary, also, although patterned after real emigrant diaries - although many readers have assumed they were authentic documents! In my first draft, I had a modern-day bookend intro and closing chapter, explaining the letters, but the main story read so well without them, and since I wanted to keep readers firmly in the 1th century, I just omitted the bookends entirely.

PS - will add a few more chapters!

Burgio wrote 1472 days ago

This is a truly enjoyable read. I vacationed in Truckee once so I know the heighth of those mountains they have ahead of them. You have a good mix of characters. The dialogue and different accents sound authentic. I wish you had written a prologue to explain how you came to possess these letters (I'm assuming they're real; if not, you sure fooled me). Either way, this is a good read. I would curl up in a chair in front of a fire and continue to read this. I’m adding it to my shelf. Burgio (Grain of Salt).

Celia Hayes wrote 1473 days ago



You write with great passion and honesty about brave people who believed in striving for a better life. That you have chronicled this important piece of history so vividly, and portrayed through your excellent characterisation the amazing qualities that brought their quest to fruition, is a tribute to your undoubted writing talent.

Backed, with admiration.

Sheila (Pinpoint)

Thank you so much, Sheila - I felt very passionately that the story of this particular group of wagon-train emigrants ought to be better-known. I suppose that I have rather scattered my 'backers' by putting up all of my books, rather than letting them concentrate on one or two - but Truckee is a heck of a story, and I would like to prove that I am capable of telling more than one!

Sheila Belshaw wrote 1473 days ago



You write with great passion and honesty about brave people who believed in striving for a better life. That you have chronicled this important piece of history so vividly, and portrayed through your excellent characterisation the amazing qualities that brought their quest to fruition, is a tribute to your undoubted writing talent.

Backed, with admiration.

Sheila (Pinpoint)

Celia Hayes wrote 1473 days ago

Thank you so much, Lynn!

lynn clayton wrote 1473 days ago

I think of all the writers on Authonomy, the historical ones impress me most. Not only do they write with intelligence and scholarship, they seem to write with the most eloquence. That's what I think about this book, anyway. Backed. Lynn

Celia Hayes wrote 1485 days ago

To Truckee’s Trail

This has a great start; the narrative scene is set through the senses, giving atmosphere.
Your style of writing fits perfectly with the story (Which came first?).
This really captures (how I imagine) this type of journey. – Good luck

Thanks, Famlavan - I don't know which came first - but one of my weird writing talents is to be able to 'mimic' writing styles. You know, like people who can do accents, after listening to someone with one? I can 'do' period styles and conversation: all I need to do is to 'load up' on the author or period that I need to mimic, and then I can do it for pages and pages. I am very good at 19th century now, having had heaps of practice with this, and with the Adelsverein Trilogy. Right now, I am doing two more books - in one I am doing a 'voice' rather like that of the Little House on the Prairie series - simple, but observant, through the eyes of a child in the early stages, and in the other, a voice of a late Victorian romance, with complicated sentences. Thanks for the backing and the comment -

Famlavan wrote 1486 days ago

To Truckee’s Trail

This has a great start; the narrative scene is set through the senses, giving atmosphere.
Your style of writing fits perfectly with the story (Which came first?).
This really captures (how I imagine) this type of journey. – Good luck

Melcom wrote 1496 days ago

Very accomplished writing capturing the period wonderfully.

The dialogue is spot on too.

Interesting premise, one that proves much.

Great work.

Impeding Justice

Jesse Hargreave wrote 1517 days ago


Jesse - Savant

AlanMarling wrote 1521 days ago

Dear Celia Hayes,

Thank you for sharing your story with us. I liked what you have in the pitch, but if you changed the order by telling about the characters first, then the resulting hardships would carry more tension because they almost happen to friends. I also appreciate how your story starts with the stakes: Elizabeth’s health is spiraling downward and only a journey to California will save her. “permanent impairment” set my teeth on edge. You ingrain the stakes by having the doctor imagine the pain of life without her. You don’t need the adverb in “tapped cautiously” since you chose the correct verb and “cautiously” is implied in “tapped”. I also appreciate how you make the doctor hesitant to travel to the “foreign country” of California. You mentioned it to be a “wild and savage” place. I live in said location, and I can only concur with the good doctor.

I can tell you enjoy writing, and I urge you to keep at it. Bravo! Backed.

Best wishes,
Alan Marling

Lorri wrote 1551 days ago

It feels to me as though you've captured the era perfectly. Lovely writing, dialogue, and a great flow.



JAG 2.0 wrote 1898 days ago

I think this is a well-written work with very well-researched period language and attitudes. It moves along well and the correspondence works well within the story. I did think the private letters were a little long and took up just a tad too much time.

Choice of oxen is correct for the period. Most of the historical detail are accurate. However (and this is a very minor point), the colors of the blacksmith's coals, the flames, and the metal are incorrect. This is not something very many would pick up on though.

I will watchlist this and await further chapters. Again, well-done.

franceshunter wrote 1972 days ago

Celia, I have finally made it over here to Authonomy and have put "Truckee" on my shelf. I love the story, the setting and the sense of pace. I hope you're doing well with this book. I look forward to having a look at the Adelsverien trilogy soon. I've always been fascinated with the story of the German settlers around Comfort who were staunch Unionists during the Civil War and paid a big price. Best, Frances

Celia Hayes wrote 2015 days ago

Oh, thank you so much, Paul! Another reader and reviewer said "Truckee" could have been sub-titled "Wagon-Trains for Dummies" it was so detailed about what a jorney of that magnitude involved. If you do go all the way to Truckee City, the little museum in the Old Jail stocks "Truckee" in their bookstore. Every year or so, they buy a box of twenty!

I am just as happy as anything with Booklocker, myself - now that I have some very skilled editor friends who have gone over my next books (The Adelsverein Trilogy) with a fine-toothed comb. They are honestly one of the best of the POD houses around, I think. They don't make their money in an expensive schedule of services - just the cover design fees, and formatting the manuscript, and in their portion of copies sold. Like most authors, I'd love to make enough from my books to quit the day job, but as time goes on, I wonder if it isn't better in the long term to have gone independent. No one telling you that you have to radically change your story to be 'sellable', to slap a cover on it that gives you the cold grue... and that you should shut up and be grateful because there are a million other struggling writers out there and you are the lucky pup to have a mainstream publisher, anyway!

Oh well - enjoy 'Truckee' - and thanks for the kind words!

Kaychristina wrote 2023 days ago

Hi Celia, just wanted to let you know I've watchlisted "To Truckee's Trail" and will have a good old read later - bit late right now! Just caught my eye on the revolving "Books" page, as I do love the old West, and your pitch is great. Your other books interest me as well! (My own "Annacara" is set later)! See you soon, from Kay

Kaychristina wrote 2023 days ago

Hi Celia, just wanted to let you know I've watchlisted "To Truckee's Trail" and will have a good old read later - bit late right now! Just caught my eye on the revolving "Books" page, as I do love the old West, and your pitch is great. Your other books interest me as well! See you soon, from Kay

Kaychristina wrote 2023 days ago

Hi Celia, just wanted to let you know I've watchlisted "To Truckee's Trail" and will have a good old read later - bit late right now! Just caught my eye on the revolving "Books" page, as I do love the old West, and your pitch is great. Your other books interest me as well! See you soon, from Kay

Celia Hayes wrote 2034 days ago

Eighteen chapters complete, and with a couple of pages of notes at the end. I did have fun with the voices - rendering the letters and the doctor's diary, and then Eddie remembering events as an old, old man, years later. I had to make him a larger character throug-out, because there is a chapter at the end, where most of the women and children are at a winter-camp in the mountains waiting to be rescued. Neither John or Elizabeth were a part of that, and Isabella Patterson had not been a narrative voice - so I made Eddie a bigger character, both to tell of that event, and also to fill in what happened after.

Curiously, the key to the character of John was a book of Lord Chesterton's letters. The real Dr. Townsend took a box of books in his wagon to California, and that book was among them. So I worked backwards from that - what sort of man would have appreciated Lord Chesterson's Letters?

Celia Hayes wrote 2034 days ago

Thank you all - I have tried very hard to incorporate such accuracy in "Truckee" as that it would pass muster by serious historians of the emigrant trails. And it's a particular gripe of mine that so many westerns and so-called-historicals are nothing but modern folk got up in costumes!

BP wrote 2034 days ago

Celia, your skill with the language of the period is very satisfying. My imagination was coaxed into 1844 and made ready for the journey. Courage and destiny. I've put it on my bookshelf.

TrudyWSchuett wrote 2034 days ago

I'm moving this from the watchlist to the bookshelf -- ACCURATE historical fiction is a rare thing indeed, and it deserves to be read.

Most of what passes for historical fiction these days is nothing more than a present-day story in period costume, and for people like me who've read a bit of history, this is frustrating, which is why I quit reading anything labelled "historical" a few years ago.

BP wrote 2034 days ago

Just added this one to my watchlist. Good luck.

Philippa wrote 2035 days ago

Sorry Celia. Apologies for failing to do my homework. I am really glad that it is out and being read. It is very difficult when countless people (and I'm not talking about kind friends) really are grabbed by what you write and yet it is not 'commercial'. It used to be the business of publishers to create commercial, by backing their own taste. You have really encouraged me to join IAG, if only to have fun in concert with others having fun. Hopefully this site might gradually change the concept of commercial. Will read more soon

Celia Hayes wrote 2036 days ago

Already do have a publisher, Phillippa! It was put out by more than a year ago, and by my calculations, it seems to have sold almost 300 copies to date. Which is about twice as many as the usual POD/subsidy press sells. The local museum in Truckee, California sells it through their museum store, and I have hopes of other pioneer museum stores picking it up as well.

I did shop it around to the usual literary agents and mainstream publishers for about a year. Three agents read it entire, loved it personally and said nice things about my writing... and regretfully that they didn't think it was 'commercial'. Which puzzled me no end, because everyone who had read it had two reactions - "Wow!" and "Why did I never hear of these people before?"

Frankly, I'd love to have it picked up by a mainstream big publisher, but I'm having more fun this way. People have told me that there are two ways to get noticed by the major publishers - the first way is to hope your manuscript catches someones' eye in the slush pile. The other way is put it out there, sell a bunch of copies, get some good serious reviews, win some contests... and then the major publishers might be inclined to take notice.

Oddly enough, when I did the original draft of 'Truckee' I did have 'bookend' chapters with a modern character, introducing the story by finding the diary in an old box of books and memorabilia. I finally decided to drop the modern bits, since I thought the story of the Townsend Party stood well enough on its own.

Philippa wrote 2036 days ago

Celia, One gets to things in a very roundabout way...via the forum on the IAG then a look at your website and a glance at this book there. The extract immediately have a fine ear for language inflexion and period speech, so you have obviously read a lot of such formal address (which I love!) I felt drawn in to the characters and their situation...there is a misery that accompanies my wholehearted approval...I wonder whether this will find a publisher.. Suggestion (can't you 'fake it'?) By this I mean can the account of this journey be found by a 'contemporary character' (related by circumstance or happenstance) so that it becomes contemporary because of its consequences.? The other really good period book on this site Magdeburg escapes this but period speech is considered 'difficult' (and one must never challenge a reader!) The suggestion is only because I'd like to believe this will find a publisher so it is on my bookshelf and my watchlist. P>S This was a very impetuous comment and may be entirely abandoned as I read on! All good wishes

paul house wrote 2040 days ago

have continued to read and enjoy your book and have now put it on my bookshelf. Thanks for your comments on mine.

paul house wrote 2041 days ago

I really enjoyed this and I liked the inclusion of the letters to give information and a period feel to the piece. I shall come back to it and read more. In the meantime, I shall put it on my watchlist.