Leaving Chimney Rock

Riding back to camp

It’s afternoon and time to leave Chimney. Even though we’ve been here for just 24 hours, Murph says it’s time, Doug, too. I know, but I don’t want to go.

It’s peaceful here and I feel this same peace. It’s inside me. We’ve traveled a long way to be in this place, all because of the big rock called Chimney. It’s no wonder. The scent of sagebrush surrounds her, like a pungent perfume. Birds gather near to bathe her in birdsong. Prairie plants grow a grassy green all around her.

I wonder – how can we leave this place of peace?

Murph says that Chimney Rock was sacred to the Sioux Indians. Maybe the pioneers felt the same, not wanting to leave. But we have to go. We can’t stay. Our life is elsewhere, but I vow to take something of this inner sanctity with me and keep it.

There’s an extra horse for me to ride back. Murph insists. How can I say no to being astride his chestnut mare. She stands tall and strong and I want to ride her. I climb on, wrap my legs over the saddle, and grab the reins. I smell something. It’s the good smell of horse, the sweat, the leather saddle and rawhide reins. I lean my face into the mare’s neck and breathe in her scent. I smile, then rub my hand across her hide, gently, and give a soft kick. She responds and moves forward. We trot behind the wagon. Murph drives and Doug and Ernie ride inside.

I am glad for this opportunity to ride again. It’s been a long time since I rode as a young girl. We took our horses swimming into and across the rivers near Austin, Texas. And even though I am not a great rider, I love being on horseback again.

The wagon moves ahead of me. I follow behind. The spokes of the wagon wheels turn round and round, creaking over bumps in the dirt road, the turning and creaking monotonous and somehow a comfort. I imagine Savannah’s wagon train, the bulls bellowing, whips cracking, and the shouting of “ wagons ho. “

I think that I am glad to get the feel of this ride. Maybe one of my characters will be riding a horse behind and beside the old wagons. I need to experience it so that I can write about it, so that I can make it real.

I turn to look back. There’s Chimney. I give one last look. Biscuit Rock is beside her and Pregnant Lady behind. I look ahead then and see Scott’s Bluffs in the distance.

I think about surprise, the emigrant journey so full of it. Surprises that often threatened lives. Cholera came suddenly. River crossings turned dangerous. Wagon accidents occurred haphazardly. And yet, along with the danger, there was the adventure and exhilaration of not knowing what might happen. I wonder if the pioneers missed the unpredictable nature of the trail once they reached the journey’s end? And did they yearn for powerful places, like Chimney Rock?

I was in my own world when I heard the gunshot ring out.


Murph saw the rattlesnake just ahead and beside the road. The wagon’s horses and my mare might bolt if the snake struck. Murph grabbed his rifle, took aim, and killed that rattler with just one shot. He stopped the wagon and jumped off to make sure the snake was dead. It was.

Murph gave me the rattles. I still have them.


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