Thursday, April 20, 2017

Traveling the Oregon Trail Backwards, Part 5

Register Cliff and the Continuum of History

I've never understood why people feel the need to carve their names into cliffs, to tell you the truth, but after visiting Register Cliff, I'm glad the pioneers did. There's something incredibly poignant about gazing upon someone's signature, knowing it has survived wind and weather, not to mention the ravages of modern graffiti, for a century or more. Call me fanciful, but it seems that the past and present merge in a continuum to connect me to that moment in history. It leaves me breathless.

This article is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.
Register Cliff  is one of three popular name registry sites on the Oregon Trail. Independence Rock and Names Hill are the other two. Emigrants often rested for a day or two at Register Cliff. It's not hard to understand why. Verdant grasslands stretched for miles, providing forage for livestock. The Platte River coursed nearby, supplying pioneers with running water for cooking, bathing, and laundry. Fort Laramie stood but a day's journey away, which must have contributed a feeling of security. The bluff itself gives the impression of a wall as it rises above the flat river bottom.

The perpendicular bluff at Register Cliff seems like a natural wall. Image by Chris Light (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Long layovers gave emigrants ample opportunity to inscribe their names into the sandstone cliff. But carving records in this place started before Oregon Trail days. As with Independence Rock, fur traders also left inscriptions here. Unfortunately, most of these have weathered away. The earliest entry on the cliff gives the date '1829 This July 14'. The French celebrate the national holiday of Bastille Day every July on the 14th, so it seems logical to conclude that the carver was a French trapper.

Other signatures of note include that of A.H. Unthank. Alvin Hunt Unthank, a youth of 19, cut his name into the stone here on June 23, 1850. He was headed to the California goldfields, but he never made it. Cholera took him to an early grave a week later on July 2, 1850. His grave is located  near Glenrock, Wyoming. In 1869, Alvah's cousin, Oliver Nixon Unthank, left his name below Alvah's. In 1939, Oliver Nixon's son, Oliver Brandon Unthank added his name to the family record.

Another engraving proclaims the passing of a wagon train led by one Tex Serpa and bound for Oregon in 1889.

Fences protect three Oregon Trail graves with unknown occupants and many of the more-vulnerable signatures to protect them.

Register Cliff Signatures image by Chris Light (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Due to the heat and exhaustion from the road trip, I was reluctant to leave the air-conditioned car to explore Register Cliff. I'll always be thankful I did. The names written here are fading into history. See them before they vanish.

I would call upon my experience of this and other locations on the trip while writing Montana Gold, a western historical romance series with the Oregon Trail always in the background. Hills of Nevermore, the first installment, is now available for Kindle preorder. Order Hills of Nevermore before the May 1st launch date for the best price. 
Can a young widow hide her secret shame from the Irish circuit preacher bent on helping her survive? 
In an Idaho Territory boom town, America Liberty Reed overhears circuit preacher Shane Hayes try to persuade a hotel owner to close his saloon on Sunday. Shane lands face-down in the mud for his trouble, and there’s talk of shooting him. America intervenes and finds herself in an unexpectedly personal conversation with the blue-eyed preacher. Certain she has angered God in the past, she shies away from Shane.
Addie Martin, another widow, invites America to help in her cook tent in Virginia City, the new mining town. Even with Addie’s teenage son helping with America’s baby, life is hard. Shane urges America to depart for a more civilized location. Neither Shane’s persuasions nor road agents, murder, sickness, or vigilante violence can sway America. Loyalty and ambition hold her fast until dire circumstances force her to confront everything she believes about herself, Shane, and God.
Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, Hills of Nevermore explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west.

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About Janalyn Voigt

My father instilled a love of literature in me at an early age by reading chapters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Robinson Crusoe and other classics. When I grew older, and he stopped reading bedtime stories, I put myself to sleep with tales I 'wrote' in my head. My sixth-grade teacher noticed my interest in storytelling and influenced me to become a writer.

I'm what is known as a multi-genre author, but I like to think of myself as a storyteller. The same elements appear in all my novels in proportions dictated by their genre: romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy.

Epic Fantasy: DawnSinger and Wayfarer are the first two novels in the epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven. The final books in the series, Sojourner and DawnKing, are under contract with my publisher.

Historical Fiction: Hills of Nevermore, first installment in Montana Gold, set during Montana's gold rush in the days of vigilante justice, will release May 1, 2017.

Romantic Suspense/Mystery: Deceptive Tide (Islands of Intrigue-San Juans) is set to launch in 2017. This title is romantic suspense, but I am also moving into writing mystery novels written in the classic style of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.

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  1. That would be a sight to see. Thanks for your insight and the picture.

  2. You're welcome, Connie! It was an interesting trip. I'm glad to share it.

  3. Register Cliff would be a sight to below. Thanks for sharing your experience and the picture. I'm looking forward to reading, Hills of Nevermore.