Author's Prelude: This story is ninety-nine percent dedicated to Laura, without whom this would not exist, because it would be lacking a main character and a large minor character. It is one percent dedicated to Daniel, to whom I apologize that I appear to have trouble writing something that he can read without cringing. As a disclaimer, I will say that I own my characters but nothing beyond that; for example, locations and the Civil War do not belong to me. This is something of a sequel to a play I wrote, Civility, which can be found at my profile. Civility is not required reading for this story, which shall be called Oregon until and unless I think of a better title.
Warnings: Probable historical inaccuracy. Character massacre (meaning plenty of character death.) Shameless self-insertion. Slash.

Leaving Independence
As Told By Captain Jedediah Applegate

My father was a wagon leader back when the Oregon Trail got started, in 1840. I joined the ranks of wagon train captains in 1861, leading a trip to Oregon City that year and returning to Independence, Missouri the next. In March of 1864, I began leading my second train west.

I have a small train, on account of the war; only fourteen wagons including my own. My wagon includes myself and my wife, Eliza. We are bringing with us a young orphan from Alabama by the name of Hank Taylor. The boy is only fifteen years old, but Eliza has a certain fondness for Hank and implored me to bring him along.

We have four wagons of immigrants: the Konopkas, the Rosas, the O'Connors, and the Eisenbergs. The locals include the Crosser family, the Mason family, and the Wilde family; all three are from Independence. From the South we have the Moons and the Freemans, while the Brights, the Harts, and the Summers all come from the Union.

The day before we were set to leave, two young men approached me. One was red-haired and one was blonde, but neither could have been over twenty-five.

"You the captain of the wagon train that's leavin' today?" asked the redhead. I nodded. "We've been fixin' to head west, too—reckon we could join you? We got a wagon and oxen and all."

"Of course," I replied. "A bigger party is always safer. What're your names, boys?"

"Roger Booth and Dennis…Booth."

"Brothers, eh?"

Roger and Dennis shared a grin. "Yeah," said Dennis, the blonde man. "Brothers."

The next day, our party of fourteen wagons set off. We have twenty-one children—those younger than twenty years old—traveling with us, so the going is slow. Now, I know that anyone over thirteen is considered "marrying age" nowadays, but it just doesn't seem right to give that kind of responsibility to such young people. Out of our twenty-one children, sixteen are younger than ten, meaning that they can't be made to help around camp and they need an adult to watch them all the time. I can't tell you how many tragedies I've seen and heard about, where young'uns wandered off from wagon trains and went missing forever. Seeing as we left in March and not April, we should have a little time to spare if the weather allows us—but I don't wanna take any chances and have to stop and look for lost children.

The O'Connor family has the most children. Michael and Molly are the proud parents of Maureen, Mickey, Mary, Myrna, and Mitchell, aged nine down to five. Lord help me, I can't keep all those M's straight, but that's the order of those darling Irish kids. And Molly is expecting—sure to have her kid some time soon. I can't help but marvel that they haven't run out of names that start with that letter. Other than Roger Booth, the O'Connors are the only members of the train with red hair.

The Rosas, a group of Italian emigrants, are another big family. Camilla and Timoteo, at ages sixteen and twelve, are old enough to work, but seven-year-old Alonzo needs supervision all the time. In addition to those three, Bruno and Barbara have another little one on the way. Of course, I'm worried that something will go wrong in the delivery, but we do have a doctor with us.

Dr. Hugo Eisenberg practiced in Germany for twenty years until his wife died. Then, he and his triplets moved to America and set off with us. The boys, Jan, Jerek, and Johann, are all twenty-one, and some of the hardest-working kids I've ever met.

Another family with grown children is the Crossers. Alice is moving west with her children Adam, Chloe, and Max, all between twenty and twenty-five years old. Their father has already moved to Oregon, gotten a land claim, and begun building a house.

Gregory Summers is also taking his niece and nephews to join their father. The children's mother died of pneumonia this past winter, leaving Jason, Billy, and Susie (five, three, and one) in their uncle's care. Gregory says he's glad to do this one thing for his brother, but worries about accidents occurring on the way.

Personally, I'm more worried about tragedy befalling the Freeman family. Frederick Freeman is a former slave who bought the freedom of himself and his wife, Lisa. The couple is moving west with their children: Richard, nine; Cassie, four; and Abigail, three. With children as curious as theirs, I fear that one of them might come to harm. In such a close-knit family, I believe that the death of any member would devastate the others.

The Konopkas are also very close to each other. Leon worked as a miner in America for several years. Rozalia was sent from Poland to marry him so that her mother and siblings could receive tickets to America, even though Leon was more than twenty years older than her. Now, I have a problem with arranged marriages, but I can see that the couple has grown to love each other. They have three children: Marcin, Jozef, and Zofia. All are old enough to help around camp, the boys being nineteen and fifteen and Zofia just making the cutoff at age ten. Marcin is very willing to assist the adults, being almost an adult himself, but Jozef is more adventurous and less inclined to work. I'm sure he'll grow out of that after a few days on the trail.

Besides the Booth brothers, we have two more wagons with only two people. Quentin and Paul Hart are twins who are moving west to join their father. The two young men have apprenticed as carpenters, and I hope they will be able to repair any wagons that might get broken during the journey. Harold and Wendy Wilde, an elderly couple, occupy the other wagon of two. After their three grown sons died in a house fire, the pair decided to leave the sorrow of Independence behind in favor of a new start in Oregon.

Clara Mason and her daughters are also moving west to escape sad memories. Clara's husband died in 1860, leaving her a widow. Nora, five, said that she don't remember her father; Lora, fourteen, confided that she does but never mentions him for her mother's sake. I sure hope that family can find a new beginning in Oregon.

Phil Bright is another person looking for a fresh start out west. A Union veteran, he and his wife Jamie are looking forward to leaving the Civil War behind. Their daughter, Jenny, is very personable for a six-year-old, and she quickly made friends with all the other pioneers—adults and young'uns alike.

Little Hallie Moon is Jenny's biggest fan, along with her two-year-old sister Kate. Their mother, Beth, is a widow moving with her brother-in-law John and his wife, Nancy. John and Nancy have no children of their own, but they say that they're thinking about it. I know five-year-old Hallie wants a cousin. Apparently, she's getting bored of Kate.

We're about to cross our first river. I hope everyone makes it across alright. It would be a shame to lose someone this early in the journey.