This Road We Traveled
by Jane Kirkpatrick
The wilds of the western United States were conquered by the strengths, sacrifices, and sometimes deaths of women as well as men who left the security of their homes for adventure and, for some, a better life. Women often made the dangerous journey solely because their husbands made that decision for them. Women of that day had no vote and no right to apply for the free land being apportioned in Oregon. Oftentimes heart wrenching decisions were made for them, leaving them to trust in God for the consequences.
Jane Kirkpatrick researched the history of Tabitha Brown carefully and then brought her story to life in a fictional account of her actual travels from Missouri to Oregon in 1846. Never wanting to be dependent on her grown children, or perhaps because her independent nature carved from early widowhood drew wedges between her and her sons, Tabitha (Tabby) took responsibility for her decision to accompany part of her family on a harrowing journey and also care for her elderly brother-in-law on this long and dangerous trip.
This Road We Traveled gives insight into the physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles the various characters endure as seen through the eyes of Tabby, her daughter Pherne, and Pherne’s daughter Virgilia. These three generations of women are united in their love for God, family, and each other. Each struggles with different challenges and their characters are formed in the forge of the many tests they endure.
Kirkpatrick is a skilled storyteller cycling through the main characters’ points of view revealing the events occurring in each life without getting bogged down in any one character’s difficulties. None of the issues are simple, varying from choosing the correct fork in the road to discovering God’s will for the future. One woman dealt with reining in her tongue so that her words matched the kindness in her heart. Another struggled with the importance of possessions, and the third had difficulties with friendships.
The pacing of the plot is good and the characters are well developed. Although there are many Christian themes emphasizing moral choices, the book is not about a cookie cutter religion; the characters have various attitudes about their relationship with God and how they should live out their faith. The author describes the desert landscape, the treacherous mountain passes, and the homes, both humble and more luxurious with equal skill. Slavery, an issue that is being stiltedly worked out during that time period, crops up several times. The various Indian tribes are not stereotyped. Some are quite generous to the travelers who are in the throes of desperation and others are violent and aggressive. Politics also play a role as the U.S. is afraid the British will cut off routes in the west.
This Road We Traveled brings to life an important part of history. Tabitha was a real person who actually made this journey at the age of 66. She had hardships on the journey and went on to help many in the state of Oregon which publicly acknowledges her contributions with the title “Mother of Oregon.” I learned a lot about her life, travels in the 1840’s to the west, and the difficulties of settling into a new community. Tabby’s story is an inspiration, and I am grateful to Kirkpatrick for sharing it.
Category: Christian, Historical Fiction
Notes: 1.Questions for discussion are included.
2. I read this book as the first book chosen for a book club newly formed by friends at church and held via Zoom meetings. I think the consensus was that we all enjoyed the book. There was plenty of depth for discussion on a variety of topics.
Publication: September 6, 2016—Revell
“Your sadness, your anger at Orus, at me, those are losses reaching out like the gnarled hands of Shakespeare’s witches. They seek something to hold on to, but there is only air.”
Oh, she’d prayed and asked for guidance but didn’t see the clarity she would have liked. Some choices were like that. God left her to step into uncertainty. She guessed that’s where faith grew strongest.
“In the end, things don’t really matter. We think they do, but they don’t. What matters is keeping those we love alive.”