Oregon Battle of the Books at Springville

All things OBOB for Springville K-8

Fact Checking Rescue on the Oregon Trail

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Dang it, Kate Messner, when students (and parents and teachers) read a work of historical fiction, there is an expectation that the fiction is fiction but that the historical is actually historical. This isn’t Hollywood, as readers our standard is higher and you have a commitment to your us to do your homework. We’re trusting you.  Don’t squander that trust. Enough ranting, here are my objections.

  1. Bacon in Sacks (page 1-2)— While bacon may have been packed in sacks, it was not the typical method for carrying bacon or salt pork across the plains. It was most often packed in barrels or crates.
  2. Men Riding Horses Alongside Ox Teams (page 34)— Nope! While an occasional male may have ridden along with the wagon company, men did not ride beside their wagons.  Most horses were kept busy herding stock behind the train. Oxen were skittish around horses and worked best in contact with man, either walking beside the team or, less often, driving the team from the wagon seat.  Horses move significantly faster than oxen and holding a horse to an ox team’s pace would increase the chances of a high-strung horse spooking the team.
  3. Mormons with Missourians (page 36) — Nope!  In the early 1850’s the tensions between the Mormons and Missourians were very escalated. The Mormon community had experienced mobs, assassinations, physical assaults and a government extermination order while living in Mossouri.  Mormons went out of their way to avoid Oregon Pioneers when possible, including forging the Mormon Trial across the Platte River from the Oregon Trail.  The large number of Mormon companies traveling west during in this time period (more than 3415 pioneers in 27 companies in 1850 alone) make it even less likely that a Mormon family would have travelled with an Oregon-bound wagon train.
  4. Miles Traveled the First Three Days (page 41) — While it was possible for an experienced team and driver to move this fast, it was very unusual in the first few days of the journey.  Many families traveling west were not experienced with oxen and the first two or three weeks were especially difficult as new teams worked together and new drivers worked with new oxen.  Families were also unaccustomed to setting up and breaking down camps early in the journey, and start times were often delayed as people adjusted to this new way of life.  Average distance traveled on the first days of the journey west was much closer to only 10-15 miles a day.
  5. Author’s Notes Imply Mormons Traveled with Oregon Pioneers (page 2 of notes) — Nope! See #3 above.

Read Rescue on the Oregon Trail for OBOB, then read West to Oregon with Ollie the Ox by Melanie Richardson Dundy (and fact checked by the history experts at End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center) to get your history straight.

Thanks to Paula Thacker for her expertise, collaboration and contribution to this post.

Author: Tammy Fry

I am the mother of four great kids, the Coordinator of OBOB at Springville K-8, an enthusiastic school volunteer, a former full-time teacher and an avid reader!

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