Character Spotlight: Jane Kirkpatrick’s Tabitha, Pherne, and Virgilia (with giveaway)

This Road We TraveledMeet three real life women in

Jane Kirkpatrick’s 

historical novel

The Road We Traveled



The Story

Drama, Adventure, and Family Struggles Abound as Three Generations Head West on the Oregon Trail

When Tabitha Brown’s son makes the fateful decision to leave Missouri and strike out for Oregon, she refuses to be left behind. Despite her son’s concerns, Tabitha hires her own wagon to join the party. Along with her reluctant daughter and her ever-hopeful granddaughter, the intrepid Tabitha has her misgivings. But family ties are stronger than fear.

The trials they face along the way will severely test Tabitha’s faith, courage, and ability to hope. With her family’s survival on the line, she must make the ultimate sacrifice, plunging deeper into the wilderness to seek aid. What she couldn’t know was how this frightening journey would impact how she understood her own life–and the greater part she had to play in history.

With her signature attention to detail and epic style, New York Times bestselling author Jane Kirkpatrick invites readers to travel the deadly and enticing Oregon Trail. Based on actual events, This Road We Traveled will inspire the pioneer in all of us.

Introducing Tabitha, Pherne, & Virgilia

Tabitha Moffat Brown

Less than 5′ tall, walks with a limp using a walking stick. Small frame. She’s 66 years old, often wears a crocheted doily on her head. She has hair the color of wet earth. She’s fond of the poet Tennyson.

Tabitha Resembles…

Your diminutive aunt or grandma. Here’s her actual picture or at my website where I have a number of photos on the book page of This Road We Traveled.

Pherne Pringle, Tabby’s daughter

I don’t use a resemblance photo when I’m writing hoping people will imagine their own character. It’s why I prefer cover photos taken from behind or “headless” so the reader can decide what that woman looks like.

She’s 41 years old as this story begins. She’s about 5’5″, slender, brown hair with a hint of sunrise, blue eyes. She has a squarish jaw (that one of her children has as well), walks quickly as she’s always busy. She wears her hair in a knot at the top of her head. At the start of the story she also has a sad countenance not liking change and also grieving. She enjoys nice things in furniture, clothing, china.


17 years old, tall (5’7″), blue eyes, honey-colored hair. Dimples on full cheeks. She’s slender. She’s just given up braids so often wears her hair down to her shoulders or tied in a knot like her mother’s at the top of her head with lots of tendrils wisping away during the day.



Strengths: A purposeful woman, independent, loving toward family, trusts in God’s guidance, cares deeply about service especially to children and education. Persevering, creative, inventive, never gives up.

Weaknesses: she can be abrupt, opinionated, stubborn (the other side of persevering) and judges her children’s choices at times.


Strengths: a great organizer, loving mother, an artist (she makes sketches along the Oregon Trail), has a caregiver’s hearts and concerns for her mother and children, a helpmate for her husband. Well read. Helped start the St. Charles MO library and Literary Society (really!).

Weaknesses: She worries about many things; she has a hard time letting go of issues, past grievances. She feels responsible for her son’s crib death so struggles with allowing God’s grace to comfort her.


Strengths: Her optimism, her empathy, her caregiving, kindness, curiosity. She’s a great baker and hopes she’ll be able to bake along the trail. Her desire is to have a faithful husband and family one day. She writes poetry.

Weaknesses: She’s anxious about the unknowns in life and sometimes that anxiety interferes with her finding hopeful solutions to problems. She also really wants to make friends on the trail but her introversion makes it difficult to meet new people.



Tabby: She’s writing her memoir as they make this journey so she’s often asking herself whether her choices represent feet (staying) or wings (taking a chance).

Pherne: She’s reluctant to head west, has to be hurried along by her husband. Often late.

Virgilia: She sometimes tries to fix other people’s problems rather than walk beside them while they come to their own solutions. She doesn’t like snakes! And she has a favorite pewter icing knife she cherishes.


Tabby: In 1987 Tabitha Moffat Brown was named the “Mother of Oregon” by the Oregon Legislature. I was intrigued how a 66 year old St. Charles, MO woman ended up as so revered in her adopted state.

Pherne: Also based on a real person, Tabby’s daughter. Knowing she and her husband had lost a child, I was interested in telling her story as a woman who didn’t want to go to Oregon. She wanted to stay where their son was buried. I was also inspired by her support of her husband on this journey and during the two years before they left Missouri when her husband helped run her brothers farm in Missouri while Orus (older brother) headed to Oregon and returned pushing everyone west (everyone except Tabby, their mother).

Virgilia: I wanted to have one main character of that younger age who could represent the passion of youth in dealing with uncertainty and change. Virgilia was the oldest of the Pringle children so likely a huge help to her mother and looked after the younger children (4 brothers – one deceased – and 2 sisters). Was she excited about leaving Missouri and starting this new adventure or like her mom, resisting it? I decided to explore that question with a young woman who wanted to go yet had some trepidation just as we often do when we face a new opportunity.


I think the answer is the same for the inspiration for the character but I’ll add this. In 1846 Tabby as I called her was 66 years old. Her adult children were headed to Oregon and she was told lovingly by them that she was too old and also too lame to survive the dangerous trip. She decides to hire her own wagon, talks her 78 year old brother-in- law into taking the journey (a single woman had to have a man with her on the Oregon Trail) and they head out. Along with her daughter’s family, she decides to take a fateful shortcut called the Applegate Cutoff and the results are disastrous: sickness, severe hardships in foul weather, lost animals and destroyed wagons and starvation. Tabby makes a decision to go ahead with her brother-in-law to find a relief party to help save her family. They both almost die but Tabby saves him. She goes on to do amazing things in Oregon including starting an orphanage and then a university that is still serving people from around the world today. Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Pherne’s background: She’s a wife and mom, grew up in the Northeast. The death of their young son weighs heavily on Pherne and she believes remaining where they are is a better long term plan for their family rather than risking the word of her older brother saying they’ll find a dream fulfilled in the West. But she allows herself to be convinced to head to Oregon to keep her family together. Her husband becomes quite ill on the cutoff they take; her son has to be sent forward on his own to try to find food to bring back. She’s greatly concerned about her mother’s health and frailty so she carries a lot of caregiver concerns. How she helps her family deal with the losses and finds her own return to happiness and health is an important part of this story.

Virgilia’s background: Virgilia in history went on to marry a state representative and help her family develop the Smith Orchards near Salem, OR, orchards still producing well into the 21st century. I wanted to tell her story before that happy result, to how she arrived at the point of finding the right person God had in place for her.

Thanks Jane!

jane-kirkpatrick-photoJane Kirkpatrick is the New York Times and CBA bestselling author of more than twenty-nine books, including A Light in the Wilderness and A Sweetness to the Soul, which won the prestigious Wrangler Award from the Western Heritage Center. Her works have been finalists for the Christy Award, Spur Award, Oregon Book Award, and Reader’s Choice Award, and have won the WILLA Literary Award and Carol Award for Historical Fiction. Many of her titles have been Book of the Month and Literary Guild selections. You can also read her work in more than fifty publications, including Decision and Daily Guideposts. Jane lives in Central Oregon with her husband, Jerry. Learn more at

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Buy at Amazon: The Road We Traveled or Koorong


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10 Responses to Character Spotlight: Jane Kirkpatrick’s Tabitha, Pherne, and Virgilia (with giveaway)

  1. Tabitha because she doesn’t let anything get her down.

  2. I would be most like Virgilia, wanting to go but being very anxious, too. I would accept the adventure! All the characters sound great!

  3. I would most likely be Virgilia because I’m always wondering about the unexpected

  4. I think I would be most like Pherne, reluctant to go but wanting to keep the family together. I’d feel the burden of trying to be sure everyone stayed safe.

  5. I would be like Virgilla, I’m always anxious of the unknown. Book sounds like an amazing read.

  6. Tabitha because she was older and still had her mind made up that she wasn’t going to be left behind. She was going to persevere and show her family, if you put effort together with determination, you will win! Thanks for the interview and giveaway.

  7. Pherne because I would have a hard time leaving home but wouldn’t want to be without my family, and also because she likes books.

  8. Pherne

  9. I think I have traits of all three of these remarkable women but I am probably more like Pherne. No matter my reservations, I have always tried to support my husband. This story sounds wonderful!

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