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The Covered Wagon

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"Look at 'em come, Jesse! More and more! Must be forty or fifty families."

Molly Wingate, middle-aged, portly, dark browed and strong, stood at the door of the rude tent which for the time made her home. She was pointing down the road which lay like an écru ribbon thrown down across the prairie grass, bordered beyond by the timber-grown bluffs of the Missouri.

Jesse Wingate allowed his team of harness-marked horses to continue their eager drinking at the watering hole of the little stream near which the camp was pitched until, their thirst quenched, they began burying their muzzles and blowing into the water in sensuous enjoyment. He stood, a strong and tall man of perhaps forty-five years, of keen blue eye and short, close-matted, tawny beard. His garb was the loose dress of the outlying settler of the Western lands [pg 2]three-quarters of a century ago. A farmer he must have been back home.

Could this encampment, on the very front of the American civilization, now be called a home? Beyond the prairie road could be seen a double furrow of jet-black glistening sod, framing the green grass and its spangling flowers, first browsing of the plow on virgin soil. It might have been the opening of a farm. But if so, why the crude bivouac? Why the gear of travelers? Why the massed arklike wagons, the scores of morning fires lifting lazy blue wreaths of smoke against the morning mists?

The truth was that Jesse Wingate, earlier and impatient on the front, out of the very suppression of energy, had been trying his plow in the first white furrows beyond the Missouri in the great year of 1848. Four hundred other near-by plows alike were avid for the soil of Oregon; as witness this long line of newcomers, late at the frontier rendezvous.

"It's the Liberty wagons from down river," said the campmaster at length. "Missouri movers and settlers from lower Illinois. It's time. We can't lie here much longer waiting for Missouri or Illinois, either. The grass is up."

"Well, we'd have to wait for Molly to end her spring term, teaching in Clay School, in Liberty," rejoined his wife, "else why'd we send her there to graduate? Twelve dollars a month, cash money, ain't to be sneezed at."

[pg 3]

"No; nor is two thousand miles of trail between here and Oregon, before snow, to be sneezed at, either. If Molly ain't with those wagons I'll send Jed over for her to-day. If I'm going to be captain I can't hold the people here on the river any longer, with May already begun."

"She'll be here to-day," asserted his wife. "She said she would. Besides, I think that's her riding a little one side the road now. Not that I know who all is with her. One young man--two. Well"--with maternal pride--"Molly ain't never lacked for beaus!

"But look at the wagons come!" she added. "All the country's going West this spring, it certainly seems like."

It was the spring gathering of the west-bound wagon-trains, stretching from old Independence to Westport Landing, the spot where that very year the new name of Kansas City was heard among the emigrants as the place of the jump-off....