Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Fateful decision

By Gil Garcia

Dear Diary, April 15th, 1846   it’s been three weeks now since we left Springfield. Pa, and Mr. Russell (The wagon Master) is hoping to make the Great Salt Lake by September.  We would have to average twenty five miles a day.  Crossing the Sierra would be a struggle if misfortune takes us with delays.  Most are immigrants looking to strike it rich in California.  But, many families are looking to be land holders and farm the rich soil when California becomes a U.S. Territory.

Dear Diary, May 19th, 1846---Today we arrived in Independence, Missouri.  Pa says, we will restock our supplies, and meet up with a smaller over land party captained by Mr. George.D., and his brother Jacob who are the co-owners of the nine wagons.

Dear Diary, May 24th 1846 – My brother Jessie and I were keeping cool today by skipping in the cool water of a creek that ran beside the trail.  Pa said it would be fine as long as we stayed within eyesight of the wagon.  Grandpa Williams was leading our horse team with great skill.  Grandma Williams took to caring for Ma, since the new baby come the night before last.  I now have a little sister named Abigail. My brother Jessie is now my responsibility, since Abigail come into this world.  She is so small but makes a stinky mess, and that’s why Jessie and I rather walk.

Dear Diary, June 25th 1846 – My Pa headed out this morning with the wagon master Mr. Russell, to scout Otters Creek Pass, Mr.Russell is planning to make camp there tonight.  He told Pa that we can find large prairie chickens, wild onions and with any luck, a hearty buck or two.  Right now Grandma’s venison stew sounds like a welcome change from the potato and onion soup we’d been a having the last two nights.
Old cravings come a rising to the top of my mind, as soon as I heard Pa might shoot one.
Just the thought of meat and potatoes, fresh baked butternut brown muffins make my mind think I died and gone to heaven.

This afternoon we reached the campsite and Pa was there skinning the biggest buck I’d ever seen.  He had already built a fire, and Mr. Russell was a finishing a corral built for the stock. Jessie and I played with the Mitchell boys till supper.  Berry and Harold Mitchell were both strong as an oak and funnier than a mule with two heads.  They both together could lift a crippled loaded wagon, and hold her steady while you change the spoke wheel. I am glad to have them as my friends, and not my enemies.

Ma, brought Abigail closer to the campfire to keep the baby’s warmth to a tolerable level.
Grandma Williams was tending to her squash blossom vines she uprooted in Springfield the night before we left.  They had been a bearing a fresh squash or two, every couple of days.

Dear Diary, June 27th.1846--Grandma Williams had found some Blueberries earlier today, down by a creek bed, and thought to surprise my little brother Jessie, for today was his birthday. But, at supper time, Mr. Bigalow’s wagon caught fire, and nothing could be done, except push the burning vessel away from the rest.  The Bigalows, managed to save their featherbed and blankets before the fire consumed all their belongings.  Mr. Russell and my Pa unloaded the piano to make room for the Bigalow’s bedding.  That fire continued to burn hot and dog gone, if little Jacom Russell who has been accused of being a pea brain had not come up with a peach of an idea.  He told his Pa that we should make good of the hot embers and make coffee for the grownups, and hot Coco for us kids.  Grandma Williams smiled and proceeded to do just that.  Ma surprised us with her new found energy, and had made some blueberry muffins with a sugar blueberry frost smeared over the crust. Mr. Russell, and the Bigalows joined us indulging in Ma’s creations. Grandma startled us by playing happy birthday for little Jessie on Mr. Russell’s piano.  It turned out to be a grand night after all.

Dear Diary, July 19th, 1846—There are now eighty seven members in the train with a total of twenty-three wagons, and Mr. George D. and Mr. Russell have been quarreling for days. When we reached Fort Bridger the argument came to a head; George wanted to take the short cut where the Hastings cutoff began.

Dear Diary, September 28th -- We road all day, and just east of the Great Salt Lake we came to a stop.  George insisted that they take the western Hastings trail, which he heard to be a short cut across the Sierras.  The plan was to go north of the Great Salt Lake, because it was the customary route, and had been established to be a safe route for wagons. They could not come to an agreement.  The wagon train divided with some taking the N.W. route and the rest following George across the Great Salt Lake desert to the Sierras.

Dear Diary, August 28th, 1846--- We are now traveling with the wagons led by George, but because of the many setbacks, we are now three weeks behind schedule. 

Dear Diary, October 15th 1846, --We have finally reached the base of the Sierras, and this morning we pulled up steaks and broke camp early, to start our climb over the mountains.  No sooner we reached the tree line; we found the remains of what seem to be a family.  There were arrows still stuck between their bones that lay their like ghosts of misfortune in the white ground fog. Pa and Pastor Slone, buried them proper, with the saying of words from pastor Slone’s bible.  Grandma Williams thought we should not go on, but settle in the tree lined meadow till winter was over. She didn’t want our lives to end as this nameless family did.  She said, this was someone else’s dream to fine gold.  She tried to remind us that we were farmers not miners.  We could find happiness right here in this fine meadow.  Look she said, there are plenty of trees to build fine homes.  There’s good fertile soil to plant crops, with fish in the streams and plenty of game in the woods.  What else could you buy with gold that we couldn’t get for free right here!  Just a little hard work!  That’s all it take....just a little hard work.

George argued that the farmland was richer in California and he was boss.  He said, Lord help you, if you were to go against me, I will shoot the first to do so.  I swear I will.  You just ask anyone if George Donner is not true to his word.  So I suggest you keep your ideas to yourselves. From now on, this Wagon Train will be known as the Donner Party and by-golly, if you ask anyone, they will tell you, I mean what I say. 

Dear Diary, October 26th.  1846--- With the days growing colder our hopes are growing dimmer that we could make the other side of the Sierras before winter sets in whole. We have begun to see flakes of snow, and all hope is fading.  Grandma and Grandpa Williams have been taken ill.  They are freezing and I fear, they will not make it.

Dear Diary November 22nd, 1846 --One by one, we begun to loose the live stock and people too! Pa helped bury five today, including two children.

Dear Diary December 19th 1846-- We made little progress, as the full of winter brings sickness to every family.  Baby Abigail, now lays sick and the pneumonia has set ma and Grandma without strength nor abilities.  Pa, has taken to caring for us all, but he too grows weak.

Dear Diary January 28th 1847 --Grandma and Grandpa were found froze this morning; they were locked in an embrace, trying to keep themselves warm.  The ground will not give up its earth when we tried to dig them proper graves.  We are too weak for such an effort.

Dear Diary January 29th 1847, we laid together last night to keep from freezing.  There is no progress forward, and the snow grows too deep for walking.  I am afraid, of what this day will bring us; brother Jessie might not survive the night.  The snow is blinding, and it hurts me to breathe the cold air.  If for some reason, I do not make the night, I want those who may find my diary to know, my name is Jack Pence, my brother’s is Jessie.  Ma and Pa was Emma and Henry Pence form Illinois.  Grandma and Grandpa were Daniel and Norien Williams of Springfield.  Please may I kindly ask you to say some proper words for us?  We were a God fearing family with good intentions.

The Search

The afternoon sun has fallen behind the thunderheads that linger above the distant summit.  This day’s conclusion was met with mixed feelings.  It was a day of great physical and emotional exercise.  I had not slept in the wilderness in a long time, but tonight I would do so alone.  It has been a week since my eight year old sister vanished by the river.  She had been playing a game of hide-n-seek with her friends, but not a one of them had a hint of what had happened to her.  It was as if she had been wiped off the face of the earth!
For the past seven days, police with dogs, friends, and neighbors of this mountain community have searched the countryside from sun-up to sundown.  To my parents’ disappointment, the police have called off the search.  A few close friends and I have promise my parents that we would not give up till Martha was found.
It had rained all night with occasional thunder and lighting.  I could only think of the many possibilities that may have befallen my little sister.  She was out there alone, cold, wet, scared, and maybe injured.  Mountain lions had been spotted in the past week descending from the mountains in search for food.  I brought my father’s hand gun, but I knew it was only good at close range.  I broke camp early, and hoped that this would be the day we would find her.
My friends Steven, Michael, John and I, returned to the location where she had last been seen, and then split up.  I went North, Michael South, Steven East and John West.  We had a pre-determined signal that if one of us were to find her, we would fire three shots in rapid succession, then head for the ranger’s watchtower and Miner’s Peak.  There, we could find safety from the elements, food, medical supplies and a radio to call for help.
I was exhausted, and I knew my friends were too.  We had searched all day non-stop and the thunder storm last night did not afford us much sleep.  It would take a great deal of fortitude to make it through this new day, but I have made it my goal to find her, no matter how long it takes.
That evening, just about sunset, I had taken a spill just south of my new camp site.  I had tripped backwards on a rock lacerating my upper arm on a fallen tree branch.  I tore my T-shirt and wrapped the wound, but continued with my plans to find enough dry wood and build a large enough fire in hopes Martha would spot it.  I kept the fire stoked late into the night but fell asleep just before midnight.
A not to distant sound of a roaring mountain lion woke me, and then came a shrill so loud it echoed through the valley floor.  It was Martha! “Martha!” I yelled as loud as I could.  She heard me and screamed back, “I’m over here!”  I ran in the direction of her voice with my gun and flashlight in hand.  She screamed again, “Hurry!” Then the lion roared again.  When I broke into a clearing I startled the mountain lion, but it was not about to give ground.  Its front paws were perched up on the vertical ledge with her rear paws planted on the ravine floor.  It was searching the ledge above.  When I raised my flash light above the animal I saw the reflection of Martha’s eyes in a small cave.  She screamed again, “Hurry, hurry, please hurry!” I took aim at the lion and fired just as the animal leaped upward towards Martha.  It fell to the base of the ravine wounded but not dead.  I approached the animal slowly and fired off a second shot that killed it.
Martha was still whimpering when I reached her.  I spent the night in the cave with my little sister.  Her eyes looked so tired.  She must have cried the entire time.  She fell asleep in the comfort of my arms, and in the morning I fired off the three shots and began our trek to the ranger station.  I carried her on my back most of the way.
After hearing the two shots the night before, Steven, Michael and John had instinctively begun to make their way to Miner’s Peak.  At daybreak, when they heard the three shots, they realized they had made the right decision.  Michael reached the Ranger station first and called the sheriffs, who called the paramedics and were there to meet us when we arrived.  They attended to Martha first, dressed her scratches, and wrapped her in a warm blanket, then redressed my laceration. Martha’s injuries would not leave her with any major scarring.  I, on the other hand, would have a scar that I would be proud of.  It would remind me of the new bond that I now have with my little sister.
When asked of how she came to disappear she said that she had chosen to hide in a row boat that was moored by the creek and all was well until she tried to get out.  She had fallen and hit her head on a seat, and that’s all she remembered.  When she woke she had no idea where she was.  She had found wild berries and drank from the creek but that was all she had eaten since the accident.
Martha was taken to the hospital by ambulance where my parents were there waiting for her.  She was dirty, tired, and had lost some weight, but otherwise OK.  My parents were overwhelmed with joy to have their little one home again, and so very thankful to Steven, Michael, John, and I for not giving up.

This day would end in celebration, long after the fallen sun.  That afternoon, my mother made Martha her favorite soup with some fresh baked hot biscuits. She also prepared a huge meal the following Sunday and invited all the towns people who had helped in the search to our house to celebrate.  Needless to say, Martha was pampered for many days to come.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Original photo appeared in Columbian Magazine
This painting was donated to the Catholic Church

I am Not Alone

Some nights I feel God holds my hand,
 guides my mind,
and together
The still night Passes.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Poems & Paintings by Gil Garcia

New Day
The earth begins to stir with a new morning sun,
Gentle rays settle softly on the moisten foliage throughout the meadow,
that prepare to feed the cottontail, the deer and all its gentle friends.
While the birds, continue their unfinished songs of yesterday.

The Farmer
With good faith he turns his soil, and sews his seeds,
He cultivates his hopes with prayers and faith
for a bountiful season to come.


I shall not have only existed,
For I have collected many memories
of great friends, and great times.
Those memories shall be clear, intact,
and indestructible;
all the years of my life.

 The Little House

It needs shingles and paint,
The vines, trimmed and tied;
But most of all, this little house
needs a family, deep inside.

The Waltons

The music is inviting,
It tells of a story to be told;
A story of a family,
Close-knit, large and bold.

Miss-spoke Apology

Sorry I spoke,
I’ll just slip by the monastery.

For some, a touch of rain may bring
A little freshness to their life,
But for others, it may bring a rainbow.


Run with the wind,
At peace with the earth.

Never stop loving one another