“This Road We Traveled” tells the story of Tabitha and her family as they make their way across mountains, deserts and through forests to the west coast and a new life in Oregon.
Tabitha Brown’s son Orvus has come back home to Missouri from a trip to Oregon and he convinces the entire family to make the trip. Tabby, who is in her mid-sixties and needs a cane to walk, is discouraged from going along, but Tabby is not intimidated. She decides to hire a driver, purchase her own wagon and make the trip along with her brother-in-law (himself in his late seventies). Tabby has no idea of the journey ahead, nor that once she reaches the end, in later years her accomplishments will lead to her being gifted with the title of “The Mother of Oregon”.
Believing that there is an easier road, they listen to the advice of a stranger and take a turning south, a decision they will later regret. The road is all but impassable. Supplies run low, there are hostile Indians, wagons break down, sickness and malnutrition beset families and children are orphaned.
“Until this journey west, she hadn’t thought much about what it took to support another, to keep alive, find ways to sustain a family, and perhaps one day prosper beyond what her own family had done. She couldn’t help but remember their comfortable life back in Missouri where they wanted for nothing, where books could be loaned out, read and returned, and necessities and luxuries purchased off supply ships sent down the Missouri from the East.
Dwelling in the past wasn’t helpful.”
As other reviewers have mentioned, even though at first the book was slow-moving (as Tabby agonized over her decision to leave Missouri), I enjoyed the story, As the story progressed, it kept me on my seat wondering which of the characters would make it through the hardships and actually reach Oregon.
The author notes at the end of the book were very helpful as J. Kirkpatrick explains how she came across the real Tabitha Brown and decided to write a fictional story based on her life.
“Their supplies were very low. They had meat, as Clark had shot a large jackrabbit. Somehow they’d miscalculated and she supposed she ought not to have let Virgilia use the last of the fine flour for cake. Was that her fault? they had paltry food she had to serve, and October had arrived and this so-called Williamette Valley nowhere in sight.”
I enjoyed reading about the journey to Oregon and the aftermath and found it inspiring to read about a woman in history who made choices to not only survive but make a difference in others’ lives. For the time period she lives in, Tabitha Brown is not restricted by convention and finds purpose in her life with her accomplishments. Not held back by the rigors of a long arduous journey or prone to enervating self-pity, she is resourceful, finding a way to earn money and assisting the many children left orphaned through tragedy. Tabby helps to found an orphan asylum and school later known as Tualatin Academy.
The author switches between three different viewpoints; Tabitha, her daughter Pherne, and her granddaughter Virgilia. Although their stories are interesting also, I found it sometimes confusing as the authors switches between characters often within the same chapter and without sufficient warning to the reader. I have read other novels by this author and know that she has a talent for getting ‘inside’ her characters, but the characters in this book didn’t come alive for me as they have in others she has written.
When I came to the last chapters of “ This Road We Traveled“, it really struck me how necessary it was for those brave pioneers who travelled across the mountain ranges and deserts to muster enough courage and resilience to make the long journey among almost insurmountable hardship.
Many of the situations in the book really happened. Nellie Louise is separated from her family and never finds them again. At first I wondered if that were too unrealistic but in the endnotes the author explains that on the trail, that did happen, and not just to one family. I was amazed to read that the story of Tabby being given three slices of bacon and one cup of tea before she left to ride ahead, not knowing where she was going, was true.
You can read an original letter written by Tabby to her son on the author’s website (Jane Kirkpatrick).