In 1860, it’s a long way from Missouri to California, especially when you’re a skinny boy with nothing but the clothes on your back, but Clem’s not going to let a little thing like that stop him from finding his father.
All stories begin at the beginning, but Clem’s story began with an end as well, for it began at the funeral of his mother and baby sister. They’d died of the fever, and Clem was alone. Well, actually not completely alone. His father had left for the gold fields of California over a year ago, and they’d heard nothing from him since.
After the funeral, Clem tried to make it alone, but with no food and no way to earn money, he had almost starved to death when the Warrens took him in. They weren’t much better off than he was, but in return for his hard work and the use of his milk cow, they gave him a cubbyhole to live in, the same miserable meals they ate, and the chance to make his first friend. Molly Warren was the only one Clem shared his books and sketches with, and his dream of going to California to find his father. And when the Warrens tossed him out, it was Molly who followed him to give him the few meager possessions he’d been forced to leave behind.
It’s a long way from Missouri to California, and not an easy trip. Clem traded everything he had for used boots, a blanket, and a Bowie knife, and got a job as a stock tender for a Pony Express station in Nebraska. And that’s how Clem began his journey, traveling with the bullwhackers that drove the supply wagons north.
Clem’s father had taught him to read and write, and his mother had provided for the rest of his schooling, but this journey was to give Clem a different kind of education, one he’d never expected or asked for. On the trail west, there’s not much call for book learning. Education comes from experience and hardship, and from those who share them with you. Clem learned about Indians, about love, and death, about determination, and survival. He learned the truth in people isn’t in what they look like, but in the way they live their lives. He learned that there’s more in most situations than you can see at first, and that when the chips are down, it’s up to people to save their own skin any way they can.
Will he make it to California? Will he find his father? Let Clem tell you his story and find out.
This Booktalk was written by librarian and booktalking expert Joni R. Bodart.