Western Short Story
The Wrawpicks
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

Okred Wrawpick, in the year 1870, was the heaviest man I ever saw sit a horse and I’ve seen a few big men in my day. It isn’t just the physical description that gets justified here but the whole story, all the way back to Eastern Europe, which I will try to tell from sources every which way arriving at my doorstep, for my pen.

I live in Oregon and will leave this history of a man of that trail to my son who one day must pull it all together; at the end of it, of course. My family did not come here by the Oregon Trail, but from further north on the continent, from a Pacific island comfortable in snow.

Wrawpick’s story started with his being carried aboard a ship as an infant and headed for America, land of opportunity for folks tired of their own old ways in Europe and the slack promise in their future and that of their lone son.

The ship arrived in Boston in 1829 in the late spring of the year and parents with the child at length made arrangements to find and join a wagon train being organized and bound for Oregon on the Oregon Trail, starting near Independence, Missouri. The dream stories of that end of the new land had impelled them from their first hearing the golden stories that came their way and to their close listening, always attentive to hope and possibilities strewn at the end of the new country.

Life would prove tenuous at best, but Harid Wrawpick, father of the child, was a rugged, smart and thoughtful man who was fearless in his desire to get his wife and child to a safe and sane home hearth in far-off Oregon, about 2000 miles away from Independence, Missouri, over a treacherous trail filled with death and calamity every step of the way. Accidents, sickness, fever, murder, and drowning littered the way every day, the toll on life more significant than anyone could realize.

The proof will be in the reading of this missal, when it is completed.

Youngster Okred was, from the day he began walking, a wanderer but not the usual kind of wanderer. He seemed determined each time out to be looking for a new and innocent place to visit, embrace, scan its edges and find its inner parts without fail unless he was pulled back or drawn further away, as he often was.

Childless couples scooped him up several times like he was a present from the Christmas spirit, then one time he was grabbed by an Indian maiden in Kansas who held him as her own until, six months later, he wandered again into the hands of another wagon couple, the skies open, the land wide as angles could be in mountainous territory, a gift from near certifiable Gods to another childless couple, this pair in the Nebraska territory.

You might think he had a special grace or an angel of his own working in his favor from some distant place unknown to all of us bounden here where a youngster cavorted with a seeming grace of his own among the rocks and rills and open-wide earth en route to far Oregon.

It all happened on the way with Wyoming, Idaho and fateful Oregon left on the old map.

That he carried his name was a double entendre, as his father had his name inked to his backside in small letters, aware and frightened of the wandering tendencies of his son. The elder Wrawpick aware that each of them had been gifted in their own special way, his own patience and belief he was responsible for a special creation, and the youngster made him realize that his own son was burdened with a wide desire to see places, do things no other child could do.

In Wyoming, among the rugged sections of the trail, Okred Wrawpick walked away from lunch to feed a mule and kept going down to a tunnel mouth that openly called to him with that insurmountable summons for new space open for study.

The boy was five years old, still loaded with wanderlust. “He gone again, Harid? How you get him back this time?” might well have been said by another pioneer countryman. “Somebody find his trail already? Saw him leave? Did not realize the next walkabout was at hand? How does sleep find you? Does it chase you all the night long? I only ask the questions every person asks another, you or hisself.” The pause said a final word was coming: “Is it a gift or a guess? A question or an answer? I puzzle with your boy’s wanderings and the endings that keep coming at us like fairy tales.”

I can hear Harid Wrawpick respond, “It is a terror each time, every time, but I have his mother to watch for, too. Two ways at once calls for two heads and I only have but one. Believe me or not, the boy has more luck than his mother, still abed these last three weeks without rising once. The boy bothers her more than me if it can be said, because he comes back from his wherever every time by his luck, goodness or God’s grace.”

I can also hear him talking to his son, when he was available for listening, about the dangerous habits he exhibited on a continual basis: “Among all those that you will encounter will be one who has no interest in your good fortune and will use you for his own selfish hungers. Beware of the friendly one who will not be friendly.”

When the wagon train was attacked by Sioux Indians in Nebraska, arrows and gunshots filling the air like the promises of death, Okred Wrawpick perched himself on the rear axle of the wagon, up and out of sight, while his father fired endless rounds of slugs at the attacking Indians. The father was quite conscious of his son’s wherewithal at self-protection, saying, “Stay in that safe place, my son, and let no one see you, lest you be gone not at your choice.”

I can hear the attendant laughter as he pictured his son not struggling at all if grasped by a warrior; he had been there before.

Many deaths came that day, burials followed, and then the departure of the survivors followed as disparate groups went their ways, all for themselves as it were. The two Wrawpicks went off by themselves, wearied by the actions of many of their companions, more cries of pity than the hearty self-bolstering that was needed in the new world they travelled. They found have for a time in small trail-side settlements and collected waysides, lost people come together for salvation.

In such communities they lingered as long as they could, the elder finding minimal comfort, the younger eager to fulfill his extraordinary walkabouts. They found some friends, lost some friends to raids by bandits and Indians, grew apace.

Okred Wrawpick, by this time, was 12 years old, was an old hand at being young and eager to search the world around him. People who heard about his escapades would nod in admiration, fidget in curiosity, curse his father’s loose controls as abominations on the young.

In Idaho the youngster became 15, an image of his father, hale, robust, muscular, as ready for manhood as any youngster in the settlement they were currently located.

“Your boy blossoms, Harid my friend, in the spitting image of you, broad across the chest and shoulders, eyes as keen as the hunter, arms like labor’s levers themselves, and you have done a great job raising him. No man can be prouder.”

The father answered, with a slow nod of his head, “Often,” he said, “he has been on his own in this part of the world. I worry here and now that Oregon will not come any time too soon for both of us. It has been an eternity since we left the old country to come here, and now we are so close. Oregon borders this trail, and we will arrive soon. It has been forever to come under our feet, to present new air for us to breathe, to know the end of a journey that has taken all my son’s life and near half of mine. Now I will wonder what becomes us, what this new horizon brings.”

Even as he spoke those words, a stray bullet caught him in the chest as a shoot-out was taking place out of their sight. He did not know that but moments before his wandering son had looked into the eyes of a young maiden and had seen eternity itself lingering there.

The boy rushed to tell his father who exacted a promise from him: “Do not linger to bury me along with your mother in this same earth, but carry on as you must, and leave me to my comrade here who will inter me in this land we have searched for and found, this Hallelujah of places.”

Okred Wrawpick walked off with the young maiden and it was the first time he failed to return from a departure.

Nobody in that small settlement ever saw them again.