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Title: West from the Cradle
Author: Brigid Amos
Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction
Publisher: Clean Reads
If the West doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you stronger.
Travis Cooper was not meant to be a prospector. Small for his age, he has never been much help on the family farm in Missouri. How could he survive the journey west to take up such backbreaking work? But when he sees a copy of the California Star in the fall of 1848, everything changes. One shining word jumps off the page: GOLD! Now staying alive is a struggle. Keeping his partner from getting himself killed is even harder!
The two mules were beyond delirium and decided, as a team, it was time to stop. Jonas finished the furrow and drove the mules to the barn, where Travis waited for him. Stopping at the barn door, Jonas surveyed the rest of the hogged off field the brothers had promised would be plowed under by the time their father got back from St. Joseph. His lips tightened in frustration. “Pa’ll be angry to see it still not done, but he’d be even angrier to see dead mules lying in zigzagging furrows,” Jonas said.
“But he’ll get back after dark and won’t see we haven’t finished plowing,” Travis offered, trying to be helpful.
“At first light tomorrow he’ll see it all right!” Jonas snapped. “For all that book learning of yours, you sure can be stupid.”
The two brothers stood without speaking for several seconds. Jonas broke the silence with a much softer voice than a moment before. “You’d better bring that milk into the house. Emily might need it.”
Travis carried the pail to the back of the house and went in the open kitchen door. The table was set with his mother’s blue Staffordshire dinnerware, now chipped and faded from years of farm use. His sister Emily stood at the fireplace, tending a big pot of boiled pork and wild greens. Steam filled the small room with a heavy, moist aroma.
Emily brushed a strand of damp, wheat-colored hair off her forehead with the back of her calico sleeve. Her soft face glowed in the heat of the fire and the steam from the pot. “Is Jonas still plowing? He was so tired before.”
“He’s feeding the mules. I guess I wasn’t much help to him today.”
“We all do what we can, Travis.”
Travis sat down at the table and laid the newspaper on top of his empty plate. Soon he was absorbed in the details of the article about California and didn’t hear Jonas come in.
Emily gave Jonas a sympathetic look. “Sit yourself down Jonas. I expect you’re all plowed out.”
“I am, but the field ain’t,” Jonas said, collapsing into his usual chair next to Travis. “Pa’ll be hopping mad when he gets home. There ain’t nothing I can do about it now.” Poking at the newspaper on Travis’s plate, he asked, “Where did that come from?”
Travis moved the newspaper onto Jonas’s plate. “Mr. Hillerman wanted me to give this to you. The article about California is what he wants you to look at.”
After reading the article, Jonas seemed to regain the energy that the long day of farm work had taken from him. With mounting enthusiasm, he spoke of the amazing news, and Travis echoed every exclamation Jonas made. But when Emily read the article, she grew quiet and seemed disturbed somehow. She looked Jonas in the eye. “You’re thinking of going, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Why not?” Jonas replied. “This could be the opportunity of a lifetime!”
“You’d leave in the spring? With Mr. Hillerman?”
“I think he’ll go. He’s got the money to do it. But if he decides not to, I could always sign on as a teamster or a cattle driver with some company and work my way across. Though, I imagine Mr. Hillerman is set on it. After all, he’s got nothing but his store holding him here.”
Emily stood up, agitated. “And you? You‘ve got nothing at all holding you here?” she asked, struggling to keep her voice down.
“Emily, I’m not planning to settle in California,” Jonas said. “I’ll be back as soon as I make my pile. And I wouldn’t be doing it just for me. The gold would be for all of us.”
Shaking her head, Emily said, “You don’t even know if any of this is true. This is just one article in a newspaper. It could be absolute humbug.”
Jonas gazed at the floorboards, humbled again. “That‘s true. It could all be humbug. But I guess we’ll know by springtime. If it is true, they can’t keep it a secret,” he said.
Emily sighed and surveyed the kitchen as if checking to make sure her work was finished. Jonas tried to catch her gaze, but she eluded him.
About the Author
Brigid Amos’ young adult historical fiction has appeared in The MacGuffin, The Storyteller, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Words of Wisdom. Her first novel, A Fence Around Her, was published by Clean Reads in 2016. A produced playwright, she co-founded the Angels Playwriting Collective and serves on the boards of Angels Theatre Company and Women Writing the West. She is also an active member the Nebraska Writers Guild. Although Brigid left a nugget of her heart behind in the California Gold Country, most of it is in Lincoln, Nebraska where she currently lives with her husband.
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