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A Journey on the Oregon Trail - an Editorial Review of "The Enchanted Journal" by Sandlin

Book Blurb:

The leather diary beckons Abigail Roberts from the ruts of the Oregon Trail. “Read me,” it teases, “I can help you,” but few pages contain writing. Mysteriously, a new page appears the next day to warn her of a dangerous river crossing and recommend a better one. The diary, written by teenaged Milli Madison in 1843, changes Abigail’s life as fresh pages of Milli’s adventure magically appear.

In 1859, fifteen-year-old Abigail Roberts begins her journey on the Oregon Trail. A farm girl and tomboy, she does not want the trail, but her father is eager for adventure and free land in Oregon.

Milli and William Anderson become sweethearts on the 1843 trail, but Abigail is determined to avoid romance and focuses on Oregon in 1859.

Captain Bridgewater, an experienced wagonmaster on his final trail, guides the caravan, and teaches the ways of the trail.

Follow Abigail’s adventures on the Oregon Trail in 1859 as she follows Milli’s adventures from 1843.

Author Bio:

SANDLIN IS THE PEN NAME for Gordon Sandlin Buck, Jr., a retired mechanical engineer with various technical publications over the years. He also has self-published genealogy and photography books. Gordon lives in southern Louisiana, where his hobbies include photography, genealogy, and woodworking. Contact Gordon at

Editorial Review:

Inspired by Manifest Destiny, the Roberts family takes the Oregon trail to make a new future for themselves. But the month-long journey is not an easy adventure; it needs endurance, tenacity, cunning, and patience to arrive at the destination alive. Incredible dangers are lurking on its path that could end someone's life in hours, and there are many graves along the road. Does the Roberts family have what it takes to make it? Or would they perish and be buried in shallow graves under a pile of desert rocks, forgotten forever?

When beginning to read The Enchanted Journal by Sandlin, one might think they are knowledgeable about the historic Oregon Trail and the westward expansion, but shortly into the novel, a reader will realize there is much more than what common textbooks teach you as you follow Abigail Robert's journey to Oregon on a wagon trail along her family. Although only fifteen years old, Abigail, the biggest of the Roberts' kids, is skillful and wise. She sets up to travel wearing pants and a hat under which her locks are cut short, just like her brother's.

In April 1859, a wagon train under the leadership of Captain Thomas Bridgewater left Independence, Missouri, with the destination of Oregon City. He will be in charge of the well-being of many families that hoped to make the crossing to the west. One of the many families that left Tennessee was the Roberts, who joined the Bridgewater train, and so their expedition began.

Most people left their homes lured by the promises of farmland; some searched for adventure, and others fled their past or the foreseeable future. As one member put it, the big war was knocking on their doors: “Civil war is a good reason to live in Oregon and avoid fighting. Besides, which side would I fight for? My parents owned slaves, and I grew up working alongside them, but I think slavery is wrong.”

A few days into the trip Abigail found a journal along the path. It only had a few pages written in and belonged to a young woman who had made the same voyage many years ahead. Although the journal was almost blank, except for a few entries, it managed to become a very reliable source of information for the new expedition, the pages of the lost diary guiding the party through the trail, giving them lifesaving hints and advice. I will not spoil it for the reader to reveal its mystery, but suffice to say that the journal is… well, as the title says… enchanted. Abigail's experience seems to follow the same path as the young writer of the journal.

The journey unfolds chapter by chapter according to the places the wagon train passes. The author uses maps and pictures along with the occasional history and geography lessons to illustrate the trail for the children in the party. But most of all, he has nicely documented a day on the trail. The train quickly falls into a morning routine: “Captain Bridgewater woke everyone at four in the morning with his horn. The men led the animals to fresh grass and water while the women cooked breakfast. Their simple but filling breakfast usually included coffee, biscuits, salt pork, and beans. Sometimes johnnycakes replaced the biscuits. Milk or buttermilk and butter were often available. A barrel served as the table. (…). By seven o'clock, the wagons were repacked and rolling.”

When the night came, “The wagons circled close together to form a corral with all the animals inside. Families unloaded tents and cooking gear to prepare for supper and the night. The continual search for firewood resumed and campfires were lit. Buckets of water were hauled from the nearby stream and emptied into water barrels on the wagons. Guards were assigned to patrol the area.”

The train transformed from a gathering of strangers to a moving community where people looked out for each other, made friends or enemies, fell in love, or buried a loved one. Along the way, they learned to adapt to the harsh environment, behave in the presence of “Indians”, and figure out how to cross a river or ease the wagons down the hill. A very likeable aspect about this novel is how the characters developed from the first pages, where little seemed to happen to the end of the book, and saying goodbye to them leaves a reader with regret.

Once passing the slow-moving first chapters, a reader becomes deeply attached to the characters, watching out for dangers, predicting a plot twist (and being often wrong), or wishing the villain could forever disappear. While the reader can possible foresee the turn of events, by the end, there is one more surprise to entice and entertain (no spoilers). Overall, The Enchanted Journal proved an entertaining reading which teaches a few history lessons along the way.


“The Enchanted Journal” by Sandlin receives four stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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