Hilda knelt down and carefully lifted the cloth-wrapped roots from the shallow pool of water beside Elk Horn Creek. Holding them in both hands, she hurried to the top of the hill where she could see the covered wagons stretching in a long line. Hilda knew that everyone was ready to leave, so she hurried to her own wagon. She reached the wagon just in time to carefully lay the roots beside a barrel before the company captain shouted, “Let’s roll!”
“Walk by me, Hilda,” her father invited. He used a big stick to goad the oxen, and slowly, their great heads swaying, the animals moved forward. Hilda looked up at her mother, who rode in the wagon with their new baby.
Until the baby was born, Hilda had not thought about the wrapped roots. But when her father took her into the wagon to see her little brother, Hilda’s mother said, “Now you must learn to do special things to help, Hilda.”
“Your grandmother grew beautiful yellow roses in Vermont,” Mother continued, “and when she moved to Nauvoo, she took roots from her favorite rose with her. There she planted the roots and they grew. When we left Nauvoo, I took roots from Grandmother’s yellow rose. Now that we are going west, the rose must go too.”
Mother explained how Hilda must keep the heavy cloth around the roots damp. “We hope,” she said, her voice sad, “that roses will grow in our new home. The roots must not dry out, Hilda. Keeping them damp will be your responsibility.”
Each day as the long hot hours passed, Hilda worried that the rose roots might become dry. Every night after the wagons circled, she looked for a stream of water where the roots could be soaked in a quiet pool.
Hilda learned many things about the streams and rivers they passed by or camped near as the wagons rolled westward day after day.
“This is the Platte River,” her father said as they came to a broad shallow stream that flowed to the east. “Our people travel along the north bank of the Platte, while folks going to California or Oregon travel along the south.”
As Hilda put her rose roots into the water, she gazed across the wide river. Wagons were circled on the other side too, and she wondered whether children there carried roses or other plants they hoped would grow in a far-away place.
Several days later they camped on the steep banks of the river near Fort Laramie.
Hilda was frightened of this wild country, so she soaked the roots very quickly in the Laramie River and hurried back to camp.
When the wagon train crossed the North Platte River, Father’s wagon almost tipped over in the deep fast current. “We nearly got your roots too damp that time, Hilda,” he laughed, but his voice was shaky.
On the banks of the Sweetwater River, as Hilda sat watching the cloth around the roots grow dark in the water, an old man sat down beside her. Hilda knew he had lived for many years in the wilderness, because the leader of their wagon train had asked the old man many questions.
“Funny how this river got named,” he said to Hilda. “Long years back when there wasn’t much in these mountains except Indians and buffalo, traders started hauling goods to trade for furs.” He nodded remembering, “The first wagon hauled across the river was loaded with sugar. The mules balked and dumped the load.” The old man paused and a smile lighted his wrinkled face. “Oh, was that river water sweet! Been called that ever since—the Sweetwater.”
Many of the rivers and streams where Hilda dampened the roots had names she did not understand. Although she looked, she found no strawberries near Strawberry Creek. The Big Sandy had no sand in it. And who, wondered Hilda, would name a river “green” when the cold water was so brown?
She was glad when they finally reached Fort Bridger, because a stream ran right beside their camp. For once Hilda could sit while the roots soaked and watch the women of the wagon train build fires to cook their meals.
At last the wagons rolled through Emigration Canyon and slowly made their way down to the new settlement in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Hilda’s father found a small cabin he could use for his family.
That same afternoon Hilda took the rose roots from the wagon and tenderly unwrapped them. She wondered if the roots were as weary as she was! Did they too feel strange in this valley? She had faithfully dampened them in the rivers and streams they had crossed, but would the roots live?
Hilda nearly cried when she removed the cloth and found the roots dry and brown. But she would not give up. Choosing a place beside the cabin wall, she dug a hole and filled it with water. Then she placed the roots inside the hole and packed dirt snugly against them, until only one tiny tip stuck out. Around that Hilda packed straw.
During the cold winter that followed, Hilda often felt discouraged. She knew Mother and Father did too, but no one complained.
Finally the long winter ended and the snow melted. One sunny spring day Hilda went around the cabin and lifted the damp straw. Growing bravely out of the roots, a new green shoot lifted into the spring sun.
Slowly Hilda stood up, tears running down her face. Suddenly a fresh new feeling of happiness came to her. If a yellow rose could grow and bloom in the Salt Lake Valley, she could too!