“My papa has wandering feet. That’s what Mamma always says. Those feet have taken us to a lot of places,” begins Rebecca, the oldest daughter in a family moving from Missouri to Oregon along the Oregon Trail in Papa and the Pioneer Quilt written by Jean Van Leeuwen and illustrated by Rebecca Bond.
Rebecca isn’t sure she wants to move again. She and her three siblings were each born in a different state, and she was feeling settled in Missouri with their little farm, her pet calf, and Grandma nearby. Now they’re moving again, setting off in a wagon train for Oregon, nearly 2000 miles away and Rebecca is not at all sure about walking that long distance. Even before they cross into Kansas, her feet “looked like they’d be worn out before we got there.” However, she soon changes her outlook and starts to enjoy the journey. Along the way, Rebecca is inspired to collect pieces of fabric to make into a quilt to commemorate their adventure. Each piece of fabric she collects has a story behind it and marks a turning point in their journey. “The first thing [she] put in it was the handkerchief Grandma gave me when we left. Her tears were still on it.” When her dad falls in the river, his shirt is shredded; into the bag go the tattered remains. In Nebraska, a family with seven girls joins the train and after they walk together through Wyoming, one of the daughters gives Rebecca her sunbonnet to remember her by. The sunbonnet goes into the quilt bag. Her brother falls out of the wagon and rips his pants. A tablecloth is abandoned by another traveler. Every scrap she can find goes into her quilt bag, including the dress she wore every day for six months. When they finally get to Oregon, her mother helps her sew the quilt together in a pattern called Wandering Foot, but after 2000 miles and six months of travelling, Rebecca is ready to stay put and as her mamma says, in reaching Oregon, they’ve “about run out of country.”
My six year old finds the stories of the Oregon Trail fascinating. While he has no problem visualizing hiking twelve miles a day (he can do eight comfortably), he has a hard time understanding how long it took. After all, he’s traveled from Missouri to Oregon and it takes a day, not six months! He also wanted to know if we could make a quilt from his travels, um, I should be able to figure out how to make one?
More than 300,000 people set out for Oregon starting in the 1840’s. There’s an Oregon Trail Interpretive Center near the Oregon/Idaho border. You can also learn more about the trail on the Oregon Trail Website. If you’re staying near Portland, consider a visit to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles and drive along the Columbia river, where many pioneers floated their belongings on homemade rafts down to Fort Vancouver. If you’re planning a trip to Oregon, reading stories about the Oregon Trail captures the imagination and is a good way to pique your child’s interest about your trip.