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A Light in the Wilderness

Jane Kirkpatrick

  © 2014 by Jane Kirkpatrick

  Published by Revell

  a division of Baker Publishing Group

  P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287

  Ebook edition created 2014

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

  ISBN 978-1-4412-1956-5

  Scripture used in this book, whether quoted or paraphrased by the characters, is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

  This book is a work of historical fiction based closely on real people and events. Details that cannot be historically verified are purely products of the author’s imagination.

  Praise for All Together in One Place

  “Great characters and a strong story. Jane Kirkpatrick is an excellent writer.”

  —T. Davis Bunn, bestselling and award-winning author

  “With All Together in One Place Jane Kirkpatrick has performed a literary miracle. She made me—a reader who seldom ventures into Western fiction by choice—struggle across dusty plains and ford swollen rivers right along with her eleven turnaround women. . . . She made me care for—no, cheer for—characters who rubbed me the wrong way until they polished clean my resistance and stole my heart. Finally, she made me marvel at the strength of these pioneer women of faith whose hard-learned lessons give me the courage to change what needs changing in my life, and whose collective trust in God fortifies my own. Read it and experience this miracle of kinship and courage for yourself.”

  —Liz Curtis Higgs, bestselling author and Christy Award winner

  “This beautiful novel speaks to the heart of human relationships—full in love. Jane Kirkpatrick’s book is a treasure, well worth reaching beyond our genre to experience.”

  —RT Book Reviews, 4.5 stars

  Praise for No Eye Can See

  “The author brings her heroines alive with full complements of both endearing and frustrating qualities, keeping them on even footing with each other and leaving the reader unsure what they might do next. Kirkpatrick is convincingly insightful about the conflicting emotions these women experience during dramatic life change, allowing them to struggle, change their minds, make mistakes and start over on different tracks. . . . [No Eye Can See] satisfies overall as entertainment, as historical fiction, and as a thoughtful exploration of human character and community.”

  —Publishers Weekly

  Praise for A Flickering Light

  “Jane Kirkpatrick’s brilliance as a storyteller and her elegant artistry with the written word shine like a beacon in A Flickering Light. A master at weaving historical accounts with threads of story, Jane has that rare ability to take her reader on a journey through time. You nearly feel the ground move beneath your feet.”

  —Susan Meissner, bestselling author of The Shape of Mercy

  Praise for The Daughter’s Walk

  “Jane Kirkpatrick is a wonderful writer who creates a story full of strong, admirable characters with human flaws.”

  —Francine Rivers, bestselling author

  Praise for One Glorious Ambition

  “As always, Kirkpatrick’s writing is graceful and poignant. A master of historical fiction, Kirkpatrick has long been a favorite author among fans of the genre, and for good reason. She seamlessly weaves biographical and historical facts into her expert storytelling, both here and in her many previous novels.”

  —Book Reporter Review

  “Jane Kirkpatrick’s ability to probe the human spirit makes One Glorious Ambition a soaring novel of love, compassion, and duty.”

  —Sandra Dallas, award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of True Sisters

  Praise for A Sweetness to the Soul

  “Jane Kirkpatrick’s particular gift is for capturing the authentic feel and flavor of frontier life; A Sweetness to the Soul is absolutely true to the people and the land as they once were. This is a novel that calls up a period early in the history of Oregon marked not only by hardship, sudden death, spiritual fortitude, and physical endurance, but also by community—one person reaching out to help another so that they might all survive.”

  —Molly Gloss, bestselling author of The Hearts of Horses

  “The best novels leave the reader changed in some significant way. A Sweetness to the Soul does that literally from its opening pages. . . . It is a celebration of those things that connect us, that make us what we are, that give us joy and sorrow, and understanding.”

  —Salem Statesman Journal

  Praise for Love to Water My Soul

  “Rich with sensory imagery, well-developed characters, and peppered with native words, the novel brings alive the traditional and transitional lives of the native people of Oregon in the late nineteenth century. The details about the flora, fauna, and tribal traditions bear evidence of meticulous research.”

  —Christian Library Journal

  Praise for Gathering of Finches

  “Drawing upon extensive research, including interviews with descendants, Kirkpatrick weaves a tale of a beautiful and dynamic woman who left a mark on everyone who knew her. . . . To fully appreciate Kirkpatrick’s research and interest in the lives of her subjects, read her Acknowledgments and Author’s Note prior to beginning this entertaining and informative novel.”

  —Critics Corner, Presbyterian Magazine

  Praise for A Clearing in the Wild

  “A Clearing in the Wild is Jane Kirkpatrick at her finest. The story is quickly paced and engaging from the first to the last. One of the most difficult tasks for a writer—and Kirkpatrick’s specialty—is to contemplate the lives of real people and to re-create a believable episode in those lives that is accurate yet interesting, to both inform and entertain. The dialogue sings masterfully with perfect tone, building characters and pushing the story line in succinct phrasing that never overstates. Emma Wagner Giesy’s story feels as genuine as if she herself were telling it.”

  —Nancy E. Turner, bestselling author

  Praise for A Land of Sheltered Promise

  “Jane Kirkpatrick has an extraordinary talent for compelling us to explore our beliefs while telling a whopping good tale.”

  —Book Reporter Review



  Title Page

  Copyright Page


  Cast of Characters

  Orgeon Territory (Map)

  Soap Creek Valley (Map)



  Part One

  1. Having an Opinion

  2. The Choice

  3. Property Claimed

  4. Shadows

  Oregon Country

  5. The Secrets of Butter and Cheese

  6. Cleaving

  7. Precious Promises

  8. Seasonal Surprises

  9. Stepping Up, Stepping Over

  10. Ready for Beyond

  Part Two

  Oregon Country

  11. Leaving

  12. Uncharted Sentiment

  13. Guarded

  14. The Fundamentals

  15. A Time to Weep, a Time to Laugh

  Oregon Country

  16. Carrying On

  17. What Matters After All

  18. Double Deception

  Oregon Country

  19. What Once We Loved

  20. One More Crossing

p; 21. The Separation

  Oregon Country

  Part Three

  22. Settled In to Freedom

  23. Where Safety Lies

  24. Kin

  25. Letting Go

  26. Loose Ends That Never End

  27. A Light in the Wilderness


  Author’s Note


  An Interview with the Author

  Suggested Readings

  Book Discussion Questions

  About the Author

  Back Ads

  Back Cover

  Cast of Characters

  Letitia (Carson) an African American woman

  Martha & Adam Carson Letitia and David’s children

  David (Davey) Carson Former mountain man/farmer/common-law husband of Letitia

  Smith Carson brother of David Carson

  Junior Carson David’s son from first marriage

  Sarah Bowman a Missouri and later Oregon neighbor

  William Bowman husband of Sarah

  Zachariah Hawkins doctor in Iowa/Missouri/Oregon journey

  Nancy Hawkins wife of Zachariah, neighbor of Carsons in Missouri and Oregon

  Samuel, Maryanne, Martha, Edward, Laura, Nancy Jane children of Nancy and Zachariah Hawkins

  The Woman, Betsy a Kalapuya woman in Oregon country

  Little Shoot Betsy’s grandson

  Greenberry Smith (G.B. Smith) slave patroller and neighbor of Carsons in Oregon

  Eliza White slave girl under contention in Missouri

  Stephen Staats

  Levin English captains whom Carson traveled with in 1845

  Henry Knighton

  Hardin Martin drovers for Carson

  Joseph and Frances Gage Letitia’s neighbors

  A.J. Thayer Letitia’s attorney

  Being one of the “Poor Whites” from a slave state I can speak with some authority for that class—many of those people hated slavery, but a much larger number of them hated free negroes even worse than slaves.

  —Jesse Applegate, Oregon emigrant from Missouri in 1843

  The essential code must include . . . how to crawl from the wreckage when this life falters, how to plunge to the cellar of sorrow and grope for the ladder that might bring you back into some kind of light, no matter how dim or strange.

  —Kim Stafford, 100 Tricks Any Boy Can Do

  She walked toward the prairie,

  the unexpected promise of possibility, new grace

  in her heart . . .

  —Kathleen Ernst, Facing Forward



  She had imagined the day she would escape; it would be high noon when people least expected them to run, when the dogs lay panting in the Kentucky sun and the patrols rested, not seeking a colored woman making her way to freedom. She’d be fearing for her life. But now, no one chased her. No braying hounds barked; yet her heart pounded.

  Here she was, her bare feet ready to leave Kentucky soil; and she was going as a free woman. Letitia patted the parchment inside the bond at her waist. It was secure. Then she pulled the shawl around her shoulders, lifted her tow linen skirt and her only petticoat, and pulled herself up with ease onto the wagon seat beside Sarah Bowman. Not that she was their equal, oh no, she knew that wasn’t so. But she was free and free people rode facing forward. The rough cloth pressed against her legs as she sat.

  “All set?” Mr. Bowman turned to his wife.

  “As good as I’ll ever be.” The woman held a baby in her arms. She patted Letitia’s fingers, held them for a moment, then withdrew them as though she’d touched a snake. “Maybe you should ride in back, Tish. Yes, that would be better. Make sure the little ones are settled.”

  Letitia hesitated. Was now the time?


  She moved then without complaint under the wagon covering, the August heat already stifling, the scent of canvas new to her nose.

  “Over!” One Bowman child barked at her sister, who sat on the older girl’s doll. Letitia wiggled her way past the two-year-old who smiled at her even when Letitia lifted her to retrieve the sought-after doll. Like a lily pad on a pond Letitia nestled herself within the array of bags and bedding and other property of the Bowmans. She swooped the toddler into her lap when the child crawled to her, smelled the lavender of the girl’s hair, then pointed so the child would look out the back arch of the opening. Caged chickens cackled their discontent on the other side of the wagon. A hot breeze pushed past them. As Letitia looked out through the wagon’s bow, a thousand memories bled through the tears in her eyes.

  She’d miss the Kentucky goldenrod. She wondered what flowers bloomed in Missouri, what life would bring there. It didn’t matter. She was leaving this place as a free woman; she wouldn’t have to be afraid now. She could own firkins, candlesticks, and kale seeds, property that belonged to her. She had papers to show.

  Her heart no longer pounded as a woman running. Dust drifted up to scent the warm air. Flies buzzed. The children had settled their claims for space. A slow grin worked its way onto her face, sent a shiver down her bare arms. She brushed at the tears, rested her chin on the toddler’s head, indigo-colored arms soft around the child. “Thank God Almighty,” she whispered. The toddler reached up without looking and patted Letitia’s cheek. Letitia began to sing, a low husky sound. “I gotta right. You gotta right. We all gotta right to the tree of life.” Letitia stared out the wagon back and smiled. A free woman didn’t have to face forward to know she headed in the right direction.


  Having an Opinion


  Letitia preferred the shadows, avoiding the skirmish before her. But the child tugged on her hand and led Letitia to the dust in front of the Platte County courthouse. Men’s voices sliced the air like the whips of a field marse, sharp and stinging.The air was heavy as a wet, wool quilt, yet dust billowed around the two men as it did when bulls scraped the earth. “She was contracted for, fair and square. She failed to do the work!” Letitia knew the speaker, Davey Carson, once of Ireland, now of Carroll Township, Platte County, Missouri. Today, full of consternation. Bushy eyebrows with the tint of auburn formed a chevron of scowl over his nose. “Sure and I did nothing like she says I did. Not a thing. The girl didn’t work, I tell ye!”

  Letitia shrank back, grateful his anger wasn’t directed at her. She tugged at the child’s hand to move toward the Platte City store.

  “We’ll settle it in court then.” The second man brushed past Davey, leaving the Irishman like a shriveled pickle in the bottom of a barrel, no one wanting to touch it.

  Davey’s red face scanned the disappearing crowd. When his eyes caught Letitia’s, she glanced down. Hot sun brought out sweat on her forehead, intensified the scent of coconut oil and honey she’d used to smooth her crinkly hair. She turned her head to the side. “Let’s go.” She started to reach for the child’s hand.

  “I suppose you believe that too,” he accused.

  She halted.

  “That I’m a madman capable of beating a young lass and misusing her, slave or no! Is that your opinion, woman?”

  Was he really speaking to her? She should walk away. She didn’t need to get in an argument with a white man. She was in the town getting buttons and bows for Mrs. Bowman and looking after Artemesia, who had begged to come along. The child stared, slipped her hand inside Letitia’s. It felt wet and warm.

  “I gots nothin’ to speak of, Mistah Carson. I gots no opinion. I jus’ stayin’ out of the way.” She did have an opinion, though. He had been kind to her the year before, not long after she’d arrived in Platte County, when she’d asked him to take her money and buy a cow with it.

  His voice rose again. “I may be an old mountain man not accustomed to town ways, but I know how to take care of property.” He threw his hands into the air. “I never touched her. Never! It was a trick all along, I tell ye. They told the lass to run away so they’
d have their property and my money and I’d be without her labor and my money both.” Davey stomped up the courthouse steps past the black and white cornerstones. Letitia was dismissed.

  Each American was due his “day in court,” or so she’d heard. She hoped he was successful in his lawsuit. She wasn’t sure why. Taking sides wasn’t her way. Her heartbeat returned to a steady pace.

  In the store, they waited. The mercantile owner had customers to keep happy, and serving those white people first was a given. Letitia spread her hands over the smooth bolts of cloth, the new dyes tickling her nose. She lifted the lacework on the shelf, fingering the tidy stitches. Irish lace? She shook her head. People were trading their finery for hardtack and flour, getting ready for travel west.

  Letitia was going to Oregon too, with the Bowmans. She wasn’t certain how she felt about that. She’d learned the rules of Missouri, showed her papers when asked, endured the sneers and snarls of “free black” as though the word meant stink or worse, a catching kind of poison spread by being present near her breath. But good things had happened to her since she’d been in this state too. She’d earned money helping birth babies, enough to buy a cow. Davey Carson had in fact made the purchase for her, taking her money to acquire the cow that she paid the Bowmans for feeding—along with her own keep.

  But she’d heard that the Oregon people wanted to join the states as free. She’d be free there too, and without slavery and its uncertainty hovering like a cloud of fevered mosquitoes. Maybe in Oregon she’d try her hand at living alone. Or if she married and had children, they’d be born free there and no one could ever sell them away from her. What property she had would be hers to keep. Like the cow she owned. She eyed a silver baby rattle on the mercantile shelf. She felt its cool weight. For when . . . if ever again. No, Mr. Bowman said they could only take essentials. A baby rattle wouldn’t qualify.

  Still, Letitia chose to go to Oregon with them, chose to help Sarah with the laundry and care of the children. She felt free to call her Missus Bowman whenever they were in public, even though at the log cabin she could call her Miss Sarah, like an older sister. Though they weren’t ever so close as that.