I am reading a good book. “The Indifferent Stars Above”. It is a historically accurate but fictionalized account of the Donner party and their trip to California. The main character is a newlywed bride. She and her new husband are traveling with her parents and her eight brothers and sisters.

This is quite a journey. From Illinois to California in 1846. This was done by covered wagons being pulled by oxen. As the trip was over 1000 miles and took over six months, most of the way the women and children walked along side the wagons, so as not to tire the oxen.

I would have made a lousy pioneer. Not just the walking part, but the whole thing. First of all there was no bathing, as there was barely enough water to drink.

These people weren’t used to regular baths anyway, but now there were none. When they came to a lake or a stream, it was either muddy or frozen.

Between wearing the same clothes for six months and no baths, some of the women resorted to dabbing perfume here and there to mask their body odor. And to think I would feel deprived if I didn’t have a bubble bath every day.

Also toothbrushes weren’t invented yet, and so most of the people lost their teeth by their twenties. And halitosis was the least of their problems. They also didn’t have toilet paper.

The toothbrush wasn’t invented for another thirty years. That is why in most of those old photographes you see, the people had their mouths shut and looked sort of grim. Not a lot of smiling going on.

The walking and the no baths was just the icing on the cake, so to speak. Also the food situation and the sleeping situation was not good either. The average covered wagon was four feet wide by nine feet long. Most people had five to eight children, plus a mother in law. You do the math.

Of course when they had to abandon their wagons, and all their posessions along the trail and their oxen died, things got even worse.

Eating the oxen was one option and evidently the tails made for pretty good oxtail stew, or soup. The men butchered the oxen but the women and children could chop up the tails with an axe.

I like to make oxtail stew, but I buy the oxtails all nice and clean from the market. They are about $4.00 a pound and come in a nice plastic wrapped package. Two pounds is about the right amount and so much easier than chopping it myself with an axe.

Burying the meat in the snow was their refrigeration, and I won’t even go into their chamber pot problems.

I haven’t gotten to the horrific part of the book yet. I am only half way through. I am dreading what comes next. But I can’t put this book down.

Seems that the man/guide who recommended the ‘shortcut’ to California had never actually taken this himself. He did know it was not a good idea to attempt this journey after the fall season. Unfortunately there was an early frost in the Sierra Nevada’s and the pioneers left Illinois a few weeks later than they should have.

We are so spoiled in the 21st century. Between air conditioning, automobiles and the internet, we get bent out of shape if our cell phones need charging, or there is a line for gasoline.

Today I went to the bank to make a deposit and there were about twenty people in line. I had forgotten it was Friday, payday. As I am retired, I can just as well go to the bank on a Monday or Tuesday. These poor people not only didn’t have banks, they didn’t have grocery stores.

Their food had to be hunted and killed, and then butchered at home. This is not easy when the food is a 600 pound grizzly bear. The good part of this event is that it made for many meals for several starving families. However, since they had run out of salt, I doubt it was very tasty.

The advantage of having a grizzly bear for dinner, is that the skin and coat are nice and warm. The main hunter decided to drape it over the roof of his log cabin to try to make it a little warmer inside.

Here I live in Hawaii, and get so cold when it drops to 65 degrees. Then when it is 90, we are roasting and can’t wait to put on the air conditioner.

As I said, I would have made a terrible pioneer. If you ever read the book Hawaii, it takes place around the same time. Actually about ten years earlier. These men and women sailed from Boston, around the tip of South America to Hawaii with the sole purpose of Christianizing the natives.

(That is not all they did when they got here).

They were young and mostly newlyweds. Their bunks on the ship were narrow planks, yet by the time they got to Hawaii, several months after they embarked, most of the women were pregnant.

In the book about the Donner party, the women tried not to get pregnant. Having to trudge along while pregnant was not a pleasant thought, but even worse was the idea of giving birth while on the trail and immediately taking off for points unknown.

Plus dying in childbirth was pretty common, even it you happened to be at home. At least at home there could be boiled water and semi clean bedding. Here there was none of that, plus the only medicine was whiskey. Also, the doctor was 1000 miles away.

Besides the pain of it all, the thought of leaving five or six orphans behind had to be a terrible worry. Who would look after the children? The husbands were busy with the wagons and all the other women had a whole brood of their own.

Their birth control methods were pretty crude. They used sponges with ribbons tied to them to try to block the pregnancies. They didn’t have a great understanding of anatomy and didn’t really know much about their bodies.

Their biggest worries were their teenage daughters, who were also on this journey. The teens had a much greater chance of getting pregnant than the mothers and fathers. After all, the dads were driving the wagons, caring for the livestock and hunting for the food.

The mother’s were doing the cooking, the laundry, and taking care of the children. The younger children needed watching as they could easily wander off never to be seen again. Either that or fall over a cliff or drown in a river.

In their free time, the women baked bread. I don’t know how or in what, but they did. All in all, not a very pleasant trip for the Mom’s. I wonder if the children of that era said the same thing to their parents that children of today say, “Are we there yet?”

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