Combat Zone

Playful pioneer experience takes a dark turn after poor choice to caulk the wagons and float them across North Quad

By Bean McQueen

An amusing and educational pioneer play on the Oregon Trail gave way to devastation and frustration after the fateful decision to attempt to caulk the wagons and float across North Quad.

“There’s a lot of resentment in this wagon, or what’s left of it,” fictional AI wagon party member Joe Longfellow said. “Maybe there’s blame to be assigned, maybe not, but at this point all that’s clear is that we’ve only got 200 pounds of dried meat and we’re down an ox.”

The drowned ox in question, affectionately known by wagon party members as Bluebell, was the only casualty of the botched quad crossing but was far from the only consequence. 400 pounds of buffalo meat, a kettle, three bonnets, and the party’s only spare wagon tongue were all washed downstream.

“And our wagon’s jockey box is damn near soaked to rot,” Bryce Longfellow, the party’s leader, said.

The Longfellow family is not the first to encounter trouble at the North Quad Crossing. The grounds are notoriously deep, moist and unpredictable, causing the quad to be hazardous to float or ford even in the best of conditions. In light of the many imaginary pioneers who have made this site their muddy grave, most guidebooks implore travelers to just cough up for a ferry.

Bryce’s fictional wife, Mary Longfellow, thinks Bryce’s stubborness is to blame for the accident:

“Bryce can’t ever accept no help,” Mary said while hanging up the party’s drenched linens in the hopes they’d dry before nightfall. “Back when we were ranching, he’d sooner work himself to death than take on a hired hand. I reckon if there were a steam engine to Oregon, he’d still prefer the wagon. Me, I don’t understand it. What’s a few dollars to cross the quad safely?”

When pressed on why he wouldn’t pay for a ferry, Bryce was unapologetic:

“Tin cost money. Spare axles cost money. Wool sacks cost money. Sooner or later, the money runs out, and then you gotta decide: are you gonna caulk the wagons and float, are you gonna ford the quad, or are you gonna wait for conditions to improve?” He then continued to count the party’s remaining bullets to verify none had been lost in the accident.

When asked why he hadn’t chosen to wait for better conditions, Bryce’s defensive stoicism gave way to rage.

“What, and wait for Little Tommy to find another damn rattlesnake?” he shouted before running away into the prairie.

Nine-year-old Little Tommy, the youngest member of the wagon party, admitted that trouble does seem to find him:

“Since leaving Independence Landing I have been bitten eight times by seven different rattlesnakes. I understand Pa not wanting to leave me idle. When I’m not messin’ with snakes, I’m spookin’ the mules. But I’m usually messin’ with snakes.”

Abigail Longfellow, child of Bryce and Mary and sibling to Joe and Tommy, was overcome by despair after the disastrous quad crossing.

“If this is what’s come of us crossing North Quad, when we try to cross Todd Field, we’ll surely drown!” Abigail said as she wept. Sobbing, she shook her head with distress and regret. “We shouldn’t have bought so many biscuits.”

At press time, the entire Longfellow family had died of dysentery.

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