My adventurous spirit screamed yes. I dreamed of writing a novel about western expansion and those first missionaries who inched their way across the Great Divide, battling raging rivers, hostile tribes, and wild animals. Then that small voice whispered that I needed more than just my over-exuberant imagination to make my story a reality.
Research, research, and more research transpired before I allowed my characters access into my story. I felt like I was in a tiny time capsule in my search into ladies’ customs and etiquette of the era. I couldn’t believe that women couldn’t vote, lost their property rights when they married, and were considered old maids at the early age of 20! Ouch. I figured that my great grandmother’s marriage at fifteen was abnormal not normal.
I learned, too, that my missionary story really dated back to 1802 with the Second Great Awakening at a revival meeting in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, where 20,000 people attended. Because of the Holy Spirit people were healed of their afflictions and alcoholics freed of their habits. Lives changed and people realized they could be saved through the grace of God. The circuit riders, who were made up of Protestant preachers grew in numbers to spread the Good News to the neighboring communities.
But my surprise didn’t end there. In 1803 France sells the land west of the Mississippi River to the United States. A coincidence? Or did God orchestrate this event. The Louisiana Purchase gave the United States 828,000,000 square miles stretching from the Mississippi River to the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west and from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to the Canadian border in the north. A vast region had opened up to spread the gospel message.
Tent revivals continued across America well through the 1830s because of this Second Great Awakening. Those dogmatic circuit riders spread the word on horseback for over a decade throughout the country and tent revivals sprang up like giant mushrooms across the byways.
I knew Wilted Dandelions would need some strong characters to carry this important mission across the impregnable Rocky Mountains. After all, spreading the news about Jesus to the Native Americans and witnessing to the rowdy fur trappers would not be an easy task!
Beautiful, high-spirited, and head-strong spinster Rachael Rothburn evolved. And, of course, Rachael would acquire her calling at a tent revival. Equally head strong, opinionated, handsome and proud Dr. Jonathan Wheaton happily stepped into the role as leading man and hero in Wilted Dandelions. He took one look at Rachael and wanted to become a missionary, vowing he would tame her. Of course, Rachael would have no part of him. That is, until she learns she must be wed in order to go to the Oregon Territory. So a marriage of convenience is arranged. And what a stormy wedding night that was!
Still, that nagging, lingering feeling, that small voice in the back of my head, told me I needed to do more. Rachael Rothburn and Jonathan Wheaton deserved my best, for they had become as real to me as my closest friends. Wilted Dandelions was no longer a fabric of my imagination, it had become real.
I needed to know that every detail, every mile that Rachael and Jonathan traveled was as close to authentic as humanly possible for a writer of the 21st century. Little did my husband and I know what we were getting ourselves into when we decided to follow the route I described in Wilted Dandelions …
Stay tuned to Part 2 of “Traveling into the Unknown”.