The Hardings are
farmers from rural Tennessee (near Greenfield). As far back as their family
history is known, they've been farmers and Jacob plans to continue the
tradition. In his mind, the only real thing of value is good farm land. They
are going to Oregon for better land and more of it.
The Hardings are protestant Christian. The denomination is not specified. Like most families of this era, they have a family Bible. Since there is no television and they own few books, naturally they read from the Bible and are practicing Christians. The men also tend to talk politics and hunting (mentioned in Jacob's letters) while the women are more apt to talk about the children, cooking, and everyday things.
The slang of the 1850s is used correctly, but sparingly enough that children can figure out what's meant. The few books that are mentioned by name were available in the 1850s and most are still available today. The top song of 1850 was "Oh, Susannah" by Stephen Foster. If children today don't know this song, it would be a shame. The prices and items needed by the train are also correct.
Historically Accurate Events
The following true historical events are included in this series:
1. The Downing girl wandering away from the train and being found safe.
2. Deaths at river crossings were numerous and, although the mishap with the Sullivan wagon is fiction, it undoubtably happened.
3. Thunderstorms and stampedes. There are many accounts of fierce thunderstorms and the stampedes that often happened with them.
4. Billy Thomas being snatched by a cougar and returned safe. This story was often told by his oldest sister while remembering the trail and has been published many times. Billy was just a year old when the cougar snatched him from a quilt. He grew up to become a judge in Wrangler, Alaska.
5. The Whitman Mission ruins. Although most history buffs remember that Mrs. Whitman was one of the first white women in the west, few know that she was killed in a massacre. This is not taught to children with the rest of their western history. It's touched on briefly in Lura's letters in hopes that some children will make the connection and maybe read more about it.
All the landmarks on the trail also existed in 1850. If your child plays the Oregon Trail game, they can place the Hardings accurately at any point on the trail. Note: There is an error in the game which I have retained in this series. The landmark "Natural Bridge" was never on the Oregon Trail. Although the Trail passed within miles of this natural wonder, the bridge was not discovered until 1887. Rather than have children wonder why I missed this landmark, it is in the letters.
You may notice that there are no deadly encounters with Indians for this wagon train. Although some wagon trains were destroyed by Indians, these were rare events in 1850. It was more typical for a very small wagon train (less than five wagons) or lone wagons to be attacked. This changed as time went on and more Indians resented the flow of whites across their lands. In 1850 things were still relatively peaceful for most of the journey.
I hope this page answers some of your questions about the series. I have tried to keep the letters accurate, informative, and entertaining for their respective age groups. If your child falls in love with them, please do not tell them they were actually written by an old woman who isn't quite old enough to have traveled the trail with Lura and Jacob Harding.
P. O . Box 1225
Torrington, WY 82240