I recall saying something about survival on the open prairie when the previous episode of 1883 came along, and ‘River’ jumps right into that idea since death was a constant back the days when people were still crossing the country in wagon trains, as it lurked everywhere, especially if one wasn’t paying attention. From being run over and crushed by a wagon wheel to being bitten by a rattlesnake hiding in the tall grass, death was only a step or two away when it came to crossing the wide-open ground. So far it wouldn’t appear that the settlers have learned this lesson yet, as they appear to think that they’re still on vacation. But the hard truth is settling in slowly as they continue to lose more and more of their party. But the sad part of this, as well as the practical aspect, is that when someone dies, the others will make use of their belongings. The only problem is, old biases and prejudices traveled from the old country to what is being dubbed as ‘no man’s land’, as was made clear by the fact that several members of the wagon train made sure to take back what they felt was theirs when a woman with two children lost her husband.
Whether the man was a thief or not shouldn’t make much of a difference in the current predicament, but it would appear that it’s the reason behind a small group of individuals stealing from a gypsy woman and her kids, something that Shea wasn’t bound to take lightly. His reaction might have been a little over the top, as he did wreck the offender’s wagon and threatened them all with death if he ever saw them again. But being the boss of a wagon train wasn’t bound to be an easy job, and it wasn’t bound to make him many friends, as he’s pointed out that he’s trying to keep everyone alive, not become their friends. The fact that James Dutton isn’t helping out much, apart from what little he can with the cattle, is only making things harder, but then again, James made it clear that he cares about his family and no one else, a point that he isn’t shy about repeating.
One of the hardest things to deal with for any settler, the namesake of this episode, is the river that has to be crossed in order to continue forward. These days folks don’t think too much about crossing the river since there are bridges every few miles or at least within easy reach, but back in the frontier days, even a small river could be a huge impediment to wooden wagons and horses that knew better than to wander in too deep. Seeing as how Josef’s people have proven to be so utterly useless in the show at this point, as they’ve been lost since day one, it kind of stands to reason that none of them would look at the river as a challenge to be met. Instead, it’s almost like another death sentence that they would shy away from rather than tackle with any enthusiasm. It’s big talk, that’s for certain, but in a world that has millions of ways to kill a person, a river is often looked at as a source of life and a possible danger that is to be respected. To those that had no easy way across it, a river was an impassable border that could require days or even weeks of travel in one direction or the other.
Wrestling with the need to keep the wagon train moving, and avoid the most dangerous of pitfalls that they might come upon, Shea is forced to think of a way to keep the people moving before the winter months hit, as life on the open prairie for the obviously unprepared could be as deadly as anything. So far, there’s not a lot of forward movement to the show, but there is a lot of great description as to how life was back in the day, without too much that many people could argue with. While history has been written, reviewed, criticized, and even vindicated, what’s seen in this show is being kept fairly faithful since life in the old days wasn’t anything to take lightly. So far, things have managed to go from uncertain to worse and worse as the wagon train continues to lose people and see folks divided from one another when tensions run too high. One has to wonder who’s going to be left when the end is finally reached, but there’s one certainty, and that’s the fact that the Dutton’s do eventually make it to Montana. The perils of the trail are bound to take a heavy toll on them, however, and it’s fair to state that the beginning of their legacy is only going to get bloodier.
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