Last month, the Jasper couple spent a week traveling through the wide open spaces of North Dakota in a covered wagon.
Deloris Brown said she has wanted to take part in a wagon train for several years.
“The first time I saw all of the mountains and the prairies out west, I thought about the pioneers and what a challenge it must have been for them,” Brown said.
In May, Brown found an article titled “Wagons, Ho!” in the American Profile supplement of the Daily Mountain Eagle.
The article states that about a dozen wagon trains operate in the United States, including one in Alabama. After some research, Brown determined that Fort Seward, Inc. in Jamestown, N.D. was the most authentic.
Participants are required to trade in their T-shirts and baseball caps for proper period clothing.
Brown spent several weeks at her Singer sewing machine working on long dresses, aprons and bonnets for herself and a pioneer vest, shirts and pants for her husband.
Brown said she was also drawn to Fort Seward because it was a working wagon train.
Each person was given one chore per day. Women were often asked to cook, serve and clean up while men were given tasks such as building fires, digging holes for the “Biffy Wagon” (mobile outhouse) and setting up a rope line where the horses could be tied up each evening.
More than 130 people and 11 wagons set out from Jamestown, N.D. on June 20. The wagon train’s destination this year was Woodworth, a town approximately 50 miles north of Fort Seward.
Rain fell for the first two days of the week-long journey. The Browns took the opportunity to bond with their “wagon family,” which included an 82-year-old retired engineer from Australia, a Texas doctor and his wife and three children as well as the wagon master.
Brown said the experience also brought her closer to her husband. Unlike their RV trips to almost every state in the union, it was impossible to plan for what might happen on the wagon train.
“All of our expectations were thrown out the window. Whatever came up on a particular day, we had to handle it,” Brown said.
The couple also reconnected with nature, especially when it was time to set up their tent.
They learned to look for a level place without holes or rocks that was also near a windbreak.
Brown added that the children in her wagon family began to appreciate the outdoors as well.
When the sun came out on the third day, they ran around excitedly sharing the news with others.
Their father later said that he was going to sell their toys and buy a bale of hay when they got home because they enjoyed playing in it so much.
Brown said that she and Robert soon decided that modern comforts such as beds, hot water and baths were overrated.
“You begin to appreciate a sponge bath in your tent, and you find out that you can accomplish brushing your teeth with one cup of water,” Brown said.
One evening, Brown overheard a rumor at breakfast that the wagon train might get a shower that evening.
Her wagon family spent several hours discussing the logistics. Had a kind farmer agreed to set up temporary stalls on his land? Would there be hot water and how long would it last?
Later, Brown realized that the “shower” in question was rain.
Since no cell phones or walkie-talkies were allowed on the wagon train, word of mouth was the primary means of communication.
When the reins broke on one team of horses, Brown’s wagon family learned there was trouble when they began hearing shouts of “Runaway wagon!”
The horses were quickly brought under control but not before they darted behind the Browns’ wagon and tore off the back steps.
The wagon train ended on June 25 with a parade through the streets of Woodworth in honor of the town’s centennial.
Brown said the experience gave her a newfound appreciation for the struggles of her pioneer ancestors.
“What we had to handle was nothing like what they did. They might have to bury their child or husband or wife somewhere and then go off, never to come back. They were going somewhere they didn’t know just so civilization could keep going,” Brown said.