A solid, but not stolid, chronicle about the women -- feeding, caring, making-do -- who survive deaths, desertions, and hardship on a small wagon train from Indiana to California in 1852. Regretfully but dutifully, Alice Muller follows farmer husband Henry with their two children on the great adventure to fulfill Henry's vision of life in the land of health, prosperity, and easy winters. Joining the company are Henry's younger brother, his strong-minded sister, and their families, a brace of newlyweds, an independent schoolmarm, and two strangers headed for the gold fields. Passing through strange and wonderful places with intoxicating names, the travelers will be marked by tragedy: deaths from cholera; a tot's demise under the wagon wheels some time after her father is drowned; Alice's miscarriage by the Bear River of a baby she names Pilgrim. Along the way, Alice, (who keeps a journal) notices jettisoned possessions and sad graves; she nurses a distraught widow's newborn in view of the Great Salt Lake. But together with the heat, the storms, deaths of exhausted animals, and treachery of rivers, there is that infinity of sky and the wild newness of it all. At the close, survivors bury the last casualty of the impossible journey and contemplate spring with confidence. Newcomer Sickels provides a low-key account of a history-making journey through the ""common little bits...the chores and smells and songs and aches"" -- and a thoroughly researched tribute to pioneer women, set to the creak of wagon wheels.