Highly Commended Story - The Long Journey
“The Long Journey” by Chloë Monét Wilder, Stellar Charter School, USA, is the Highly Commended story in the senior category of the second biannual Short Story Contest 2020.
The Long Journey
The story of a brave young girl who experienced:
The Oregon Trail, the Gold Mines, and the Trail of Tears.
I took a deep breath, inhaling the smells of the Oregon Trail. The fresh rain from the night before, dripping from the top of our wagon. I stuck my tongue out, under the canvas covering and caught a drop of rain in my mouth. I looked out the back window, looking at the long river of caravans trailing behind us. I could no longer see the end. We were all traveling to the same place, we all had the same goals. No one was against each other, no one meant any harm, but we were all struck with gold fever. California was the place where everyone was headed. To strike it rich with gold. No one knew if we would have a home in California, no one knew if we would have food. They, we, were all walking on top of a tightrope. A tightrope in which, if one of us fell, we all would fall. Deep down, we all knew it, but we were all blind to that possibility. Gold fever can do that to you. We had been traveling that long dusty trail for longer than I could keep track of. Papa said that it would take about four months to get to California. At the time, when he told me, I imagined a grand parade, with as much food as we could eat, and the newest fashion! It sounded like a paradise, where I would never want to leave. But then, on the wagon trail, I wanted to be anywhere but there.
About a month later, we arrived in California. I don't remember much, because it all went so fast, and I was so young, but I do remember wishing for more food every day. I do remember my stomach growling with hunger every hour, wishing for food. I do remember the day Papa left for the gold mine. I do remember watching the other girls, playing outside, or walking together to school. I couldn't join them because I had to stay home from school to help mama with the gardening, just so we could eat, and I was too hungry and weak to play. My mother gave me much of her food. But it got to the point where we were only having supper every day. One meal a day. One day as I was sitting on the chair by the windowsill, watching the girls skip their rope, when we heard a knock at the door. A basket covered with a red, black and white, checkered blanket was sitting on our doorstep. I uncovered the blanket from the basket and underneath was food! I gasped.
“Mama! Come quickly!” I cried.
She came rushing over. When she saw the basket full of food, she started to cry. But not only because of the basket full of food. But because of the letter next to the food. The letter was from Papa. It said:
We have struck gold! After weeks of hardship, we have hit a gold mine. I will send more money soon, but this should suffice for food and clothing until I do.
I love you both. I will write more soon.
“I can go to school now!” I shouted.
We went inside to prepare supper, but as I went to set the table, my mother said, “I can take care of that tonight. You go on ahead and pick out your outfit for school.”
I nearly dropped a plate, I was so excited! I rushed halfway down the hallway. I picked out a pink and green calico, cotton weaved dress, and a bonnet to match. I also picked out my new black leather ankle boots that I had got for my last birthday. I had been saving them for a special occasion.
The next day, I scrubbed myself clean in a wash tub, and got dressed in my outfit. I grabbed the brand new books that my mother and I had picked out the night before. I could not read yet, but I was determined to learn. I skipped up to the other girls my age walking to school, and introduced myself.
“Hi!” I said. “My name is Hannah. I am new to school. I have never been to school before.”
“Hi!” one of the girls said. “My name is Ruby. That is Sarah, Ann, and Abigail.”
I waved shyly.
“So you have never been to school before?” asked Ann.
“No! Not ever!” I cried with curiosity bursting from inside of me. “What’s it like?”
“Well, don't ever be late for class,” said Abigail with a sneer. “Our teacher, Mr. Tucker makes you stand in the corner if you're late.”
“Stop trying to scare her Abigail,” said Sarah
“Don’t listen to her,” said Ann, giving me a squeeze. “I am Ann. I am Ruby's younger sister. Stick with us, and you'll never be late!”
We all became close friends. Well, all except for Abigail. She was always trying to make me late for class. She would throw my shoes into the river, hide my bookbag, or even one day, take my lunch! I think she was jealous of our new found friendships. So I tried to be nice back. At lunch I gave her my roasted buffalo and berries, (Well part of them because I had to eat too!) and I invited her to jump rope with us at recess. But Abigail was still as mean as ever!
Meanwhile me and Sarah, Ann, and Ruby became best of friends! (Just between you and me, Ruby was my best friend!) We played together at recess, sat together at lunch, told each other secrets, and we spied on the miners across the street from our house. But one day, everything changed. I was waiting by the river, waiting for Sarah, Ann and Ruby, but no one came. So I ran up ahead not wanting to be late for school. All day I sat at my desk staring into space not really focusing on the lesson as I should have been. At lunch I had no one to eat with, at recess I had no one to play with, and as I walked home, I had no one to laugh with.
When I got home my mother was in her room packing a bag. I ran up to her and said, “Mama! Are we going on a trip? I’ll go pack my bags!” I said excitedly.
My mother grabbed my hand on my way out. Her face was sad.
“There has been an accident at the Gold Mine where your father works.”
I gasped. My hand flew over my mouth. “Is Papa alright?” I asked worriedly.
“He will be alright after some treatment, but I am going to stay with him until he recovers.”
“What about me?”
“They will not allow children at the Stockton State Hospital, where he is staying. You will stay here until I return.”
One month turned into two months, and two into three. My mother still had not returned. I had not gone to school since she left.
Then it happened. I heard a knock on the door. Part of me was scared, but another part of me was excited. It had been months since I had seen other people! A tiny voice inside of me said not to open the door. I walked toward the door, the floorboards creaking below me. I opened the door and in front of me stood a large Indian. He was wearing a tan breechcloth and large moccasins, he was taller than even my Papa. He spoke in a language that I didn't understand. I was so scared that I could not move. I did not know what to do.
“Food,” he said in a thick accent.
I found my voice and said, “Y-yes, come in and sit. I have some food you may have.”
He walked across the floor silently, his moccasins padding his steps. He sat down at the table in the place where my mama always sat. I bit my lip to hold back my tears. I prepared him some rice and beans and some stale crackers that I softened with water. I sat across from him.
“I stay here with you?” he asked me.
For a minute I didn't say anything. I was too stunned. But I finally spoke up and said, “Of course you may.”
Over the next few weeks, I had almost the whole tribe living with me. I could not bear to turn anyone away. But then, came another knock on the door. Though this was not the soft, delicate knock of an Indian.
A white colored man barged in and yelled, “By order of the government, all Indians, are to be removed!
He started to take the Indians out of my house one by one. None of them tried to resist, the white men had guns. Then they came to me. They took me away with the Indians. I was mixed in with all of the Indians, and in the middle of all the confusion, I was taken away as well.
By this point, we had been traveling for a whole month. I had to watch as my newfound friends each one by one die along this long trail. It rained almost every day while we were traveling. We cried just as often. Tears were cried, blood was shed, innocent people were lost. It was almost too much for me. Then one night we were sleeping by a campfire, when a white man brought in more Indians to our group. Just more innocent lives to be lost, I thought. Then I saw a sight for sore eyes. I blinked a number of times to make sure I was seeing what I thought I saw. It was my friends, Ruby and Ann! They had been picked up with the Indians just like me! We ran toward each other and squeezed each other tight. We cried again, but this time, they were tears of joy.
We had been traveling for one and a half months by this point. We were passing through a gold mine, when we, Ruby, Ann, and I thought that it looked familiar. Just as I was processing where I was, fighting broke out among the white people and the Indians! It was all a blur, then it was all over. Only a few people were left standing. Ruby, Ann, and I were not hurt, we were just in awe. Then I saw them. My parents! They had been fighting against us. Against me. Against my friends and my new family. I ran over to them and fell into their arms crying.
“Why? Why were you fighting against us, against me?”
“Oh Hannah! We had no idea that you were with them! We never would have…” began my Papa.
I spoke louder so everyone could hear me.
“But regardless, it is wrong to kill innocent people just because of who they are!”
Everyone was silent for a time. Then my Mama spoke up.
“Hannah, I am so proud of who you have become. And you are right.” She then spoke louder too. “We came to America for a better life, a free life. But what kind of life are we living when innocent blood is spilled, because of us?” She turned to me and Ruby and Ann. “We will move back to Europe for a better life.”
We adopted Ruby and Ann, because unfortunately, their parents did not survive. And we moved to Europe where we live to this day. If there is anything I have learned from my experiences, it is that, People are people, no matter who they are or what they have done and we should all be treated equally.
Thank you for doing this interview Hannah.
It was my pleasure Luke. I hope your readers find my story inspiring and that everyone who reads it will learn something new.
And thank you for reading my story of my life from The Oregon Trail, to The Gold Mines, to the Trail of Tears, all the way back to Europe.