In Journal Across the Plains, pre-teen brothers John and Dominique Verdenal document the day-to-day events of the El Dorado wagon train traveling between St. Louis, Missouri and Placerville, California in 1852. Detailed footnotes as well as numerous illustrations and maps deepen the readers’ cross-country experience. Biographies of the boys, their parents and selected individuals met on the trail make the history personal.
The brothers and their parents endure hardships including being trapped under a wagon by a fierce hailstorm that sends cattle and horses scrambling for cover and leaves birds, rabbits, and fish dead in its wake. After finding the wolf-chewed remains of a murderer, they uncover his tragic story. Disappointment and disillusion divide their party, reducing the number of wagons in their train by more than half. The trip was not just bland food, adversarial weather, and near impassable rivers and mountains. Natural wonders including the colossal Independence Rock and the stone cleft of Devil’s Gate broke the monotony of the plains. Rest days allowed for horse races, swimming, and practical jokes, while holidays inspired bonfires, speeches, and violins.