Posted by: markfender | February 11, 2014

How the West Was Lost

My Dearest Emma,

pioneerIt has been two months since I first left for California from St. Louis. I still recall fondly my last look at you, Ma, and Pa as my wagon trundled into the horizon.

The journey across the Great Plains was arduous. I will not bore you with the details or the hardships we experienced. There were times when I was not sure we would make it. The days brought sweltering weather and unfordable rivers. The nights brought wolves and bone-chilling cold. We were forced to bury more than half our company on the road. The winds raged unceasingly. We did not run into Indians, but I swear that I saw some marking our progress from faraway ridges.

So you can imagine our exhaustion and heartache when we reached the Rocky Mountains. Here was to be the most difficult part of our journey. The mountains loomed large across the plains. You cannot imagine their size, Emma. With each day they grew closer, looming ever taller. At the foothills, we stopped. The air is already thin, and we have not even begun the treacherous crossing. Considering the difficulties of fording streams, resetting broken wheels, and the general ruggedness of the terrain I have already crossed, I cannot see how it is possible to cross these great mountains.

A settlement of sorts had arisen at the foothills of these majestic peaks. Perhaps it formed when pioneers who arrived earlier than myself stopped to wait out the winter and ended up making a home here. It is a rough land here, Emma. Not at all like the genteel civilization of St. Louis. The citizens of the Colorado territory have legalized a curious weed here. When smoked, it curtails pain and provides an overall sense of well-being unlike any other. Most of our God-fearing nation has made this plant illegal but here on the outskirts of civilization it remains a readily-available medicine. At first, I was convinced this was another snake-oil cure peddled by indiscriminate, Godless men. But, after the difficulties of our journey and given the first chance to sleep within four walls in two months, I willfully joined in the smoking of this marijuana. Its effects soon overtook me and I felt a great sense of peace. Finally, after such an arduous journey, was true relaxation. Surely no cruel God could have devised such a medicinal plant. Soon, I was laughing with the others who had rented this room. We stayed up late into the night, listening to Thomas play his guitar. It was a song called “Casey Jones” and it seemed to contain a deeper meaning than all other music I had ever heard before. I have never heard a song with such deep beauty.

I am writing this letter to you from outside a general store (A most curious general store it is, too. The proprietor has only coffee available for purchase and he charges a month’s rent for a cup of it. Surely, it must be a peculiarly rich bean to account for the cost as he never seems to be without customers) in this small town. I have been partaking of this strange plant without ceasing since my arrival two weeks ago. I keep telling myself that I must make it across the mountains before winter sets in, but I found my willpower sapped by the journey. I have heard that California is warm and a great bounty for all those that settle there. I must make it across these mountains to make my fortune so that I can be reunited with you and Ma and Pa. And yet, I cannot summon up the energy.

I have sold two of the oxen to afford more of this marvelous plant. I no longer have a full-team to pull the wagon. I will soon have to sell the wagon and invest in a smaller one. And I am so thirsty. It is as if the high altitude has sucked all the moisture from my body. My mouth is dry and parched at all times. But the weather is nice and there are no insects or germs in this climate.

Have you ever looked at your hand, Emma? I mean, really looked at it? In these two months, I have had a lot of time to think and I cannot reconcile my current feelings with my attitude when I began this journey. I remember being excited to come here. With the promise of rich land and the chance to make a living, it seemed a difficult but worthwhile endeavor. Now, I find my feelings have changed. Perhaps it is the hardships of the travel to get here. Or perhaps it is the effects of this medicinal plant. Either way, I cannot imagine why I once thought I would be a good farmer. I am unsuited to the land. I am sick and desperate and I can only be cured by smoking more of this marijuana.

I am here in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the Colorado territory. I should not have come here. I am so tired. I am lost, dear Emma. And so high.

In Love,



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