Western historical romance writer Charlene Raddon returns to The Plain today with a fascinating look at the Oregon Trail, the setting for her latest release, the Golden Heart Finalist, Tender Touch. Charlene will be giving away a copy of Tender Touch and an antique ox/cow bell, so be sure to leave your contact info!
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DANGERS ALONG THE OREGON TRAIL
Contrary to myths created by old-time movie makers, and sensationalist books and stories, the main cause of death on the Oregon Trail was not Indian attacks. Accidents, exhaustion, and disease killed more pioneers than hostile Indians.
Among the more dangerous activities on the trail was crossing rivers. Swollen rivers could tip over and drown both people and oxen. Such accidents could cause the loss of life and most or all of valuable supplies. Animals sometimes panicked while wading deep, swift water, causing wagons to overturn. Fractious animals caused their share of serious injuries. Simply being stepped on by heavy oxen could be dangerous, especially to a child.
Being run over by wagon wheels was actually the most frequent cause of injury or death. People, children in particular, tended to tire and decide to take a rest by riding on the wagon tongue while the wagon was moving. Too often they fell off and were crushed under the wheels. Firearms were the second leading cause of emigrant injury and death. A surprisingly large number of pioneers were injured and killed by accidental firearm discharges. Keeping firearms unloaded proved the safest practice, but not all followed this rule. The third cause was stampeding livestock. Attacks by emigrants on other emigrants, lightning, hailstorms, grassfires, gunpowder explosions, snakebite and suicide took their toll as well.
Disease caused the deaths of nine out of ten pioneers. Cholera, small pox, flu, measles, mumps, tuberculosis could wipe out an entire wagon camp, especially cholera. A perfectly healthy person could be fine in the morning and dead by noon when cholera was present. Unfortunately many lingered in misery for weeks jounced about in wagons. If it appeared a victim wouldn’t last the day, the train often stopped moving to wait for the end. Burials often took place in the middle of the trail, with the hope that being run over by wagons and trampled by animals would erase the scent and wolves wouldn’t pick up the scent and dig up the corpse.
The number of deaths experienced by wagon train companies traveling to California is conservatively figured as 20,000 for the entire 2,000 miles of the Oregon/California Trail, or an average of ten graves per mile.
Most Indians tolerated the pioneer wagon trains passing through their lands. Some traded and swapped buffalo robes and moccasins with the pioneers for knives, clothes, food and other items. Some tribes were notorious for stealing, and violent altercations between Indians and pioneers did occur, but these were few compared with the total number of settlers who traveled in safety through Indian lands. In the early years, Indians never attacked a large wagon train; stragglers, on the other hand, were considered fair game.
Between 1840-1860 Indians killed 362 emigrants, according to historical studies, but emigrants killed 426 Indians. Of the emigrants killed, about 90% died west of South Pass, mostly along the Snake and Humboldt Rivers or on the Applegate Trail to the southern end of the Willamette Valley.
To make amends, the chief offered a horse in exchange for the cow—more than a fair trade—but Grattan refused and ordered his men to fire at the Sioux. Sadly, thinking Grattan now had his revenge and would leave, the chief ordered his warriors not to shoot at the soldiers. Grattan responded to this by killing the chief. Naturally, the Sioux fought back, killing 21 soldiers.
After that, a number of tribes carried on guerrilla attacks, while the military plotted a major retaliation. Years of hostility ensued and many innocent people died.
All because of a wandering cow.
* * * * *Blurb for Tender Touch:
Three nightmarish years of marriage had shattered Brianna Wight’s sheltered world. Faking her own murder, she fled St. Louis…harboring terrible secrets that could mean her death.
The tragic loss of his Indian wife left Columbus Nigh a wanderer; necessity made him a wilderness guide. But now he found himself drawn to the enigmatic woman who’d hired him to lead her westward. Her gentle strength stirred his lonely heart…her tender beauty aroused his deepest passions.
But the perils of the Oregon Trail paled beside the murderous wrath of the man who tracked them across the harsh frontier. Brianna knew the only way to save herself and Columbus was to risk their tender love. Only then could she free herself from the horrors of the past—and embrace a rapturous future.
St. Louis, Missouri, April 1849
Brianna Wight’s heart pounded as she reluctantly followed her housekeeper’s son inside the dingy, cavernous livery stable. She felt as though she were entering the very bowels of hell.
Heat from the blacksmith’s shop blasted her delicate skin through her clothes and fluttered the veil covering her face as she waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. The flames leaping from the forge and the murky silhouettes of men, dancing about the fire like so many devils, were all she could make out.
Harsh, angry voices flew at her out of the blackness, like hurtled knives. Instant terror stiffened her body and she threw up an arm to shield her face.
"Wait your turn, stinkin’ squawman. Whaddya need yer horse shod for anyways? It’s only one o’ them Injun ponies. Get back to yer slut squaw an’ have her pick the lice from yer hair, why doncha?"
The voice that answered was soft, deep and—Brianna thought—deceptively calm, but the words were unclear.
"Why, you bastard!" the first voice yelled.
The sound of flesh and bone striking flesh and bone froze Brianna. Her heart stuttered. That sound was entirely too familiar, as was the pain that always followed. She tensed, waiting to feel the expected blow.
Instead, a man sailed toward her out of the smithy. Brianna screamed in the instant before he slammed into her. Together, they tumbled to the straw-littered floor in a tangle of arms, legs and skirts.
"You blasted squawman!" someone bellowed. "Look what ya done now. Get up, damn you! That’s a lady you’re laying on."
Brianna fought for air and shoved frantically at the heavy man weighing down her already bruised and battered body. Pain from a hundred places threatened to rend her unconscious. Inside her head, a voice shouted,"It’s not Barret! Not Barret!" But the fear had her in its grip. She could not stop batting for her life, as she had been forced to do, so many times before.
* * * * *About Charlene Raddon:
Charlene's writing career began with a dream. Not the dream of becoming a writer—she didn’t seriously consider becoming an actual writer for some time after she began her first novel. No, it was a dream that started her writing. So vivid, so compelling, this dream was, that she got up from bed, dragged out an old portable typewriter (pre-computer days) and began to type. The result was an unsold time travel which she is now reworking. Five of Charlene's western historical romance novels were published by Kensington Books. She is now in the process of having them published as e-books. Tender Touch was a Golden Heart Finalist in 1990 and published in 1994. When she isn't writing, Charlene loves to travel, do needlepoint, scrapbook, research genealogy, collect antique china, and spoil her grandchildren. She lives in Utah with her retired husband and a very neurotic cat.
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Tender Touch / Available on