Table of Content

MAY

 

MAY 1

Having crossed the Des Moines River the day before, John S. Zeiber (1851) was late starting because the "morning was so windy".

"We journeyed fifteen miles and encamped three miles from Kanesville, our place of rendezvous" wrote John T. Kearns (1852). "We are now on the western borders of the United States and at the end of civilization. . . . There are a great many emigrants here preparing to cross the plains to the far-distant Oregon and California."

In Henderson County, Illinois, Mr. Davis (1852) paid ten cents for a pound of maple sugar. That day he reached the Mississippi bottom and "camped opposite Burlington, Iowa."

 

MAY 2

"At 6 A.M. commenced snowing," reported John S. Zeiber (1851), adding "This is winter, not winter lingering in the lap of spring, but absolute winter assuming sovereign sway. . . It is now 1/4 past 9 and no abatement in the falling of the snow."

Two days beyond the Des Moines River, the party with which Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) was traveling "Concluded to remain at our present encampment today and let the cattle graze while the men hunt up corn to take along, as report says that it is almost impossible to obtain it a few miles ahead, even at exorbitant prices."

Orange Gaylord (1853): "Drove to Big Blue River by 12 o'clock m.

 

MAY 3

". . .this morning we left our camp in good season and drove down to the ferry (Mississippi)" wrote Mr. Davis, but they could not cross until afternoon because of high water.

Crossing Iowa, one day beyond Mt. Pisgah, Henry Allyn (1853) reported that "James, in crossing a slough, gets thrown out of the wagon, unhurt. The roads are on extremes, where they are good, very good, and vice versa."

Orange Gaylord (1853): "Crossed the river (Big Blue) on the ferry. Paid ferriage $3 per wagon."

MAY 4

Henry Allyn (1853) reported "Five of the mules missing". It took the better part of the day to recover them since they had to tracked for six miles. "Rain continues all day. We lay at camp all this day. Not having grain, we are obliged to let the mules have time to graze. All the emigrants that we passed yesterday, repass us today, while rain was pouring down in torrents."

"This morning we were wakened by the pattering of the rain upon our wagon covers." As a result, Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) "Remained in camp; rained all day."

 

MAY 5

"Sun rose clear though the sky is overcast with clouds," John S. Zeiber (1851) noted in his diary. "Kern camped a short distance below us and attempted to picket his horses. Three of them got loose, one of them came running to our camp last night. . .We shall make an early start for Pisga, 23 miles distant."

Only three-fourths of a mile after starting, "the foremost wagon" of Henry Allyn (1853) "got stuck in the mud, by reason of the mules sinking and falling." A passing teamster "volunteered to take his five yoke of oxen to the wagon and soon had it on 'terra firma.' The mules would have got through, if they had hard ground. They have hoisted the wagons frequently out of deeper and harder mud, but their feet are so small that they sink, where oxen or horses will not."

In 1853 Celinda Hines ferried the Missouri. "It took almost all day to ferry the teams and cattle across. Some of the cattle swam the river and one cow got mired, but at length we were all safely landed in Nebraska at Little St. Louis. I purchased a pair of shoes as cheap as I could in N.Y."

 

MAY 6

Jesse Harritt's (1845) party was "detained abut three hours in consequence of the illness of an infant, of whom there is faint hopes of recovery. "We traveled about eight miles and stopped on the headwaters of Wolf River."

The day before reaching the Big Blue River, Mrs. Cornelia A. Sharp reported that "Our camp through the night was visited by rain and heavy wind; our tent blown down and everything saturated with water and covered with mud". Then their cattle, put out to graze during breakfast, strayed; "the main body not (found) till about 2 o'clock, our wheel steers still missing. The balance of the day spent in search of the lost cattle. So much for the first night and second day."

In her diary, Martha Missouri Moore (1869) indicated that she "had forgotten to state that we had a drove of 5100 head of sheep. . ." accompanying their wagon.

 

MAY 7

In 1846, Virgil Pringle "Set sail for Independence, 8 miles from our encampment, at which place we arrived at 2 o'clock. Finished our outfit and encamped 4 miles beyond Independence. All things in good order, our teams doing well and not overloaded."

John S. Zeiber (1851) made his "noon halt at Nadaway River, where we had to repair the road at the crossing. . .Kern, under pretext of our driving too fast, lagged behind so that we might pilot and mend the way for him (Reasons for this remark.)"

In 1851, after crossing the "Nishnebotany River at a ferry", Henry Allyn bemoaned the fate of Indians at the hands of whites. "Self-styled the freest nation upon earth and the asylum of universal liberty, both civil and ecclesiastical. How long wilt thou make this hypocritical boast, while in thy midst more than 30,000 of native-born Americans are not only robbed of all they have, or might acquire, but of their own bodies, bones, sinews, soul and all. Surely no heathen nation on earth is guilty of such barbarism."

James Frear (1852), one day before reaching Kanesville, started early, reached a creek and had to wait four hours to cross. To add to the difficulties, the boat sank!

In the same year John T. Kearns (1852) "moved down to the ferry . . .and encamped on the Missouri River bank. . . We shall stay here a few days more before crossing over into the wild uninhabited land possessed by the Indians. The Missouri is about a half-mile in width."

 

MAY 8

Camped on the "Nimahaw River", Jesse Harritt (1845) reported that "Last night we had a wedding in camp between Mr. Geo. Shafer and Miss Margaret Packwood."

Camping on the Blue River because it was to high to cross, Virgil Pringle (1846) reported that "Another wagon capsized at the encampment, a family from Pennsylvania. No injury to persons or property."

 

MAY 9

Virgil Pringle (1846) reported crossing the Blue River in the morning, then traveling 16 miles "over prairie that is rich and beautiful but no timber or water. . .no wood but green willows such as are common on prairie branches. Made better fire for cooking than we expected. Plenty of branch water."

Crossing two branches of the Nishnabotna River, Henry Allyn (1853) recorded an observation which clearly indicates how little emigrants knew of the road which lay ahead. "Road much better today, and according to all accounts there is no more very bad roads this side of the Cascade Mountains" [in the present state of Washington!].

 

MAY 10

This day Virgil Pringle (1846) "Went about 9 miles and dined. Then left the Santa Fe road . . ."

"While laying in wood", one of the men in the train of Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) "found a yoke of oxen, probably strayed from some emigrant."

 

MAY 11

Just before reaching the Nishnabotna River, "The owner of the cattle came this morning and, having identified them, David bought them" according to Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853). "Our way today has been over some as beautiful country as I have ever beheld" she continued, "Who can blame the red men for striving ever to retain these beautiful hunting grounds."

Camping at Kanesville, Henry Allyn (1853) reported that "Last night at the ferry a person was shot by one of the emigrants in an attempt to steal. Whether an Indian or white man is not known. He is supposed to be killed, as blood was discovered and marks where he had probably fallen into the river."

 

MAY 12

Mrs. Cornelia A. Sharp (1852): "We made, after crossing some creeks and fine country, about twenty miles, and encamped."

Mr. Davis (1852) crossed the Des Moines River at Eddyville on a rope ferry. He further noted that "about sixty or eighty Indians of the Potawatami tribe camped near us last night. . ."

 

MAY 13

The Reverend Edward Evans Parrish (1844) noted the "loss of the Wolf River bridge, and also . . .the death of the sick man, Bishop, who was bound for the rocky Mountains for his health. He died at Mosquito Creek."

In the midst of an eleven-day wait for the ferry, John T. Kearns (1852) reported that "One man was killed on the 13th by getting drunk and letting a wagon and team run over him." Kearns also noted that "Their way of ferrying here is very poor indeed. Their boats are old-fashioned flats. It was, or is a dangerous undertaking for any one to cross in these boats. One man was drowned and several more barely escaped with their lives.

Camped for the night after crossing Cedar Creek, Mr. Davis (1852) experienced "a thunder shower. . .as we had got in bed, which blew down our tent and drenched us with rain; I crawled into one of our wagons with two others and spent the night very uncomfortably. . ."

 

MAY 14

The party of Reverend E.E. Parrish (1844) spent the day "trying to cross sixteen wagons over the Wolf River on a raft, but it proved a failure and we had to build two canoes."

Henry Allyn (1853) recorded an incident not uncommon on the road west. "A young, man, by the name of James Samuels, from Columbus, Ohio" was killed by a recently acquired traveling companion. "The back of his head (was) mashed in, a blow on the breast with the edge (of an axe) and his nick about half severed." The guilty party attempted to escape by stealing a horse, was caught, quickly tried by a jury "partly of citizens and emigrants" which "was unanimous in their verdict of guilt." The condemned was given two hours "to make his peace with God. . .(then) was hung on the limb of a basswood tree that stood about 12 yards from the scene of the murder. To all appearances he was not over 17 or 18 years of age, said his name was Waltenberg Mewett, was a citizen of St. Louis and his parents lived in Missouri."

To assist them in managing the sheep noted earlier, Martha Missouri Moore (1869) reported that her husband "got a Shepard dog Chloe. quite a pretty bitch."

 

MAY 15

"Remained in camp and spent the day collecting our lost cattle," noted Mrs. Cornelia A. Sharp (1852), adding that they were "Visited by a heavy hailstorm in the afternoon."

The next day the Moore's (1869) and their sheep "Passed through Leroy [Leroy, Kansas] very pretty little place. Mr. Moore got another large shepherd dog today, the two cost him $33. . .

 

MAY 16

In eastern Nebraska, Indians frequently attempted to collect toll from emigrants for the use of bridges across streams. Henry Allyn (1853) provides an example. Crossing the Missouri that morning, after dinner the party "came to a small stream, where was a bridge, made of cottonwood poles and brush made by the Indians, where they demand toll. . . .James gave them a dime and they let us pass."

Nearing the Vermillion river, Celinda E. Hines (1853) "Passed the Catholic Mission of the Pottawatamies. Found there, to our surprise, quite a pleasant looking village."

 

MAY 17

The day after leaving Fort Laramie, John M. McGlashan (1850) reported seeing "a village of prairie dogs" which "set up a great barking as we passed." The "inhabitants" were "about the size of a rabbit and of a light grey colour. . ." In a more serious vein, McGlashan, referring to the fact that "many emigrants died last year of the cholera and were buried by the wayside", noted that in "many places the wolves have dug up the bodies and the bones lie scattered about the location of the grave."

This day Celinda E. Hines (1853) crossed the Vermillion River, then overtook "a Co. of Californians; one lady and maid in the Co. and a drove of cattle." Later she and her party "Camped in a delightful place near which was a grave (the bones had been dug up), H.A. Blinn, Michigan, died. . .27, 1852-three marks on the board."

 

MAY 18

Polly Coon (1852) "Arrived at Kanesville procured our fitout" She and her party then waited for three days before being able to cross the Missouri.

Celinda E. Hines (1853): "Crossed the Little Vermilllion. See dead cattle every day along the road. Saw two men who were 50 miles behind their Co., gave them some sea bread."

"We left Ottumwa (Iowa) in the morning about 10 A.M. in our waggons for our expected long journey" wrote Harriet Booth Griswold in 1859. Adding that "We have four large covered waggons one uncovered and one two horse hack. . .It is my first experience of riding after oxen and to night is our first camp. . ."

 

May 19

On this date, John M. McGlashan (1850) "nooned on La Prele River, a fine stream of clear water. Cottonwood grows along its banks. . . .Kept on till we came to Deer Creek, a beautiful stream, well wooded and abounding with mountain or speckled trout. Here we campt us with a party of emigrants. . . Our animals begin to show fatigue. Two or three waggons have dropped behind and concluded to travel slower. So rapid have we been travelling we have had little opportunity to look for game. We occasionally see antelope and frequently wolves."

"This day crossed the Missouri River and traveled three miles to the west" after casting "our last look into the states we have left behind, probably forever" wrote John T. Kearns (1852) in his diary, adding that "We formed a company this evening, consisting of nine wagons and 35 persons, including men, women and children."

Henry Allyn (1853): "The body of the man spoken of yesterday (a) week, that was shot at the (Missouri) ferry, is found, as the emigrants inform us that have left since. It was a white man with an Indian blanket around him, endeavoring to steal on Indian credit. Judgment overtook him suddenly."

 

MAY 20

"Pushed ahead for Blue River", wrote Virgil Pringle (1846), "the foremost of the caravan reached in time to cross; found it rising fast. 20 wagons crossed, the remainder detained by the water Thursday and Friday, which was much to our advantage, our teams recruiting, more overhauling provisions and (all) was (in) fine (order).

In 1851, John S. Zeiber, camped at Kanesville waiting for the ferry, described a tragedy all too frequently associated with the road west. Three teams "came near our camp", he wrote, "They appeared in fine spirits, whistling and singing. They stopped a few hundred yards above us and in a few minutes we heard one of the young men had shot himself in attempting to take a loaded rifle from the wagon. He drew it muzzle foremost and the gun went off, discharging the load in his right side, the ball passing through the liver and lodging near the backbone. What a change in the feelings of that company." [The young man died the next day.]

Mr. Davis (1852) passed one dead ox that was "probably killed by crossing sloughs."

On this day Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) "Crossed the Missouri River on a steam ferry boat and set our feet on the Indian soil. My feelings on entering this benighted land and look upon its inhabitants, sunken in the depths of heathenism, were those of unformed pity, my heart6 yearning after a knowledge of their language that I may converse with them and communicate some light to their darkened minds."

 

MAY 21

Reverend E.E. Parrish (1844): "Last night we had a wedding in camp. Mrs. Martin Gilliam to Miss Elizabeth Asabill by E.E. Parrish. Both young. Hope they may do well."

On " May 21 [Sunday]" Sallie Hester (1849), "Camped on the beautiful Blue River, 215 miles from St. Joe, with plenty of wood and water and good grazing for our cattle." Her familiy's health was good, but two young men died of cholera "within the past week. . .We buried them on the banks of the Blue river, far from home and friends."

After crossing the Big Blue River and camping "about four miles west of said stream", Mrs. Cornelia A. Sharp reported that "Our cattle in the course of the night stamped (stampeded), and we were detained in consequence of the cattle being scattered."

 

MAY 22

On this day John T. Kearns (1852) "traveled about twelve miles. . .until we came to Elkhorn River, which we ferried, paying $2.00 per wagon, staying some two hours to get across.. . . Besides paying $2.00 per wagon for ferrying, we had to swim our teams and loose cattle."

Orange Gaylord (1853): "Passed Ash Hollow and camped on Castle River. Good grass."

As described by Sarah Sutton (1854), her party "came into town (St. Joseph, Missouri) early, to cross the river with about 100 head of loose cattle, nine wagons and 10 head of horses, and 36 souls. . ."

 

MAY 23

Wagon train organization and discipline was difficult to maintain. In 1846, for example, as the train crossed the Blue River, Virgil Pringle recorded that "Our company burst asunder this day, leaving 27 with us, the captain and others taking the lead, the sickness of Mrs. Richardson and the detention being the cause."

Camping near Devil's Gate, John M. McGlashan (1850) described the country as being "exceedingly picturesque, the Sweetwater winding through a valley which is four or five miles wide. On each side of the valley the mountains rise to the height of 1500 to 2000 feet. On the north broken and granite masses rise abruptly from the green sward of the river, terminating in a line of broken summits. Except in the crevices of the rock and here and there a ledge or bench of the mountains where a few hardy pines have clustered together, these are perfectly bare and destitute of vegetation.

In 1852, John T. Kearns recorded a not uncommon reaction to Indians encountered. "We saw a Pawnee Indian village on the opposite side of the Platte River" he wrote, "We got out of the Omaha Indian country after crossing Elkhorn. They appeared very friendly, but I judge these Pawnees to be a set of rascals. They are constantly begging."

Henry Allyn (1853) noted he passed "several graves, one of which was made yesterday. On the head board was wrote, 'Mrs. E.S. Wilcoxon, May 22, 1853'. The road leaves the other, or south branch of La Platte and follows the north fork. All timber entirely disappears, only what grows on the islands in the river, which are thickly timbered with cottonwood and the islands are so numerous, that they present a continued grove of timber, as far as we have traveled on it."

 

MAY 24

Four days before crossing the Grand River in Missouri, Mrs. Elizabeth Dixon Smith Geer (1847) reported being "Encamped in a marsh. Shoe-mouth deep in water. The men peeled bark, made a floor, built a fire on it to dry themselves and get supper by."

John S. Zeiber (1851) crossed the Missouri at Kanesville. The first wagon crossed at about 6:00 P.M.; the other wagon "did not get over much before 11 o'clock P.M. . . . Glad we were over as the river was getting over its banks and the weather again appeared to threaten rain. . ."

"Night before last," wrote Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) in her diary, "some of the tribe (Pawnees) killed four oxen and badly wounded the fifth, belonging to some emigrants. They no doubt gave the Indians some cause for committing the outrage." She went on to note having passed a "newly-dug grave this morning, to which the remains of a young lady were to be consigned, her disease, consumption, of 15 months" standing, a warning that we, too, are mortal"

 

MAY 25

Traveling the country between the Blue and Blue Earth Rivers, Virgil Pringle (1846) encountered "the most violent hurricane. . .I ever experienced. The wind blew from every point of the compass with utmost violence. . .and the rain fell in torrents. Its severity was such as to blind a man and take his breath to face the storm. It continued about 45 minutes. . ."

Henry Allyn (1853) noted "Three buffalo heads lay by the road. They appeared to be recently killed, as their hide and wool was yet on them."

Coming through Ash Hollow in western Nebraska, Sarah Sutton (1854) reported that "Mr. Cook wounded a wolf and the dogs caught him."

 

MAY 26

East of Fort Kearny on the Platte River, Francis Sawyer (1852) observed the results of a clash between thirteen Sioux and sixty or seventy Pawnees, a clash reportedly won by the Sioux. She and her husband "drove off the road a short distance to see one of the Indians who had been killed. It was the worst horrible sight I ever saw. Four or five arrows were sticking in his body and his scalp was gone, leaving his head bare, bloody and ghastly. (P. 92) I am sorry I went out to look at him. I have had the blues ever since. . ."

On this date Mrs. Cecelia Emily McMillen Adams (1852) . . ."came into the town of Lynden. . .(where) we found roads that. . .were very good, and soon came again into the Missouri bottom. . .Here we got our first sight of the Missouri river and encamped in sight of it on the banks of the Nishinabotany, which we crossed on a bridge."

Orange Gaylord (1853): "Nooned opposite Chimney Rock."

 

MAY 27

Jesse Harritt's (1845) party was delayed until 3 o'clock P.M. because the previous night "we had a tremendous hard rain, with thunder and lightning and considerable wind, which caused our cattle to scatter. . ."

"May 27th. . . .About nine miles from our encampment brought us to the summit. The ascent had been so gradual that we were obliged to watch very closely to tell the culminating point." Thus did John M. McGlashan (1850) described South Pass, going on to say that it " has nothing of the gorge-like character and winding ascents usually supposed. . .The pass is several miles in breadth and notwithstanding the height is above the sea between 7000 and 8000 high, the traveller is surprised he has had to pass over so few high mountains."

Traveling along the fork of the Loup River, John T. Kearns (1852) became "somewhat impatient on account of making such little progress while on such good roads and almost surrounded by smallpox and cholera. The country along here is too good for the brawny skins of the wilderness to possess."

Three years later, Mrs. Maria Belshaw (1853) recorded an accident in her diary: "May 27th. . .A child in company ahead of (us) fell out of a wagon, two wheels passed over her, no bones broken.."

 

MAY 28

"Today the water of the Pappea (creek) began to fall and a commencement was made to build a new bridge". But the creek rose again and John S. Zeiber (1851) was forced to camp "in place" a second night

John T. Kearns (1852) reported the death of a man from cholera in a nearby train.

In Kanesville, Iowa, Mr. Davis (1852) "bought Colt's revolver, $30; one pair moccasins, 25 cents; three papers, 15 cents; one knife, 95 cents; paid tavern bill, $1; powder and lead, 50 cents."

 

May 29

William G. Johnston (1849) camped "nearly a mile beyond the Warm Springs, the water of which we used in cooking. The name properly indicates their temperature, not being hot, but simply warm. . ."

" May 29th. We were on our way quite early this morning," wrote John M. McGlashan (1850), because his party were "anxious to be among the first to reach the ferry on Green River." He described the river as "a fine running stream about eighty yards wide and too deep to ford. Its banks outlined with tall cottonwood and on the whole it has a pleasant appearance, when compared with country we have passed over for the last week. . .This river is one of the main tributaries of the Colorado and receives the waters of the west side of the Rocky Mountains. . ." He went on to describe the ferry thusly: "The ferry boat," he wrote, "consists of some plank hewn out of the cottonwood trees. It is capable of carrying the waggons, the horses and mules have to swim."

While traveling along the Republican River, Mrs. Cornelia A. Sharp (1852) "Passed the spot where a murdered man had been found and buried on the 10th of May; name unknown." She also noted in her diary a wagon fire caused "by the accidental discharge of a gun" and the "loss of a very fine horse" by two men from the train who went hunting. [Two days later, when the train reached the Platte, the missing horse was found.]

Orange Gaylord (1853): "Drove 13 miles and camped opposite Fort Laramie."

The day before arriving at the Republican Fork of the Blue River, Celinda E. Hines (1853) noted that "M., J. and myself went to see a grave. It was a young lady. The body had been dug up by wolves. Bones and clothing were scattered around."

 

MAY 30

On this day in the year 1834, William Marshall Anderson, one day beyond Scotts Bluff, "found today a hawk's nest on a scaffold which had been the resting place of a Sioux brave. This bird of blood had deposited her eggs near the spot where a warrior's head once lay."

In 1851, John S. Zeiber "Went to work early with others and completed the bridge by 1/2 past 10 A.M." His party thus was finally able to cross Pappea Creek, only to be held up once again at the ferry over the Elkhorn River. "We camped. . .only 150 yards from the grave of John M. Hurd, who was killed by lightning in the ferryboat on the Elk Horn at this place on the 26th inst., age 21 years."

Mrs. Cecelia Emily McMillen Adams (1852): "Went to Kanesville and did some little trading."

In 1853, Mrs. Velina A. Williams' party "Traveled about 17 miles to the ford, where we expect to cross the Loup Fork. Some of the men have examined the ford and find it quicksand bottom. They feel that it will be hardly prudent to attempt to cross tonight."

 

MAY 31

The road west was frequently dusty. On this Tuesday in 1853, Amelia Knight recorded in her diary an incident occasioned by such dust. ". . .when we started this morning, there were 2 large droves of cattle and about 50 wagons ahead of us, and we either had to stay poking behind them in the dust, or hurry up and drive past them. . ." Get past them they did, even though the teamsters threatened retaliation. But the episode was not yet over. "We drove a good ways ahead, and stopt to rest the cattle and eat some dinner", Mrs. Knight continued, and "while we were eating we saw them coming, all hands jumpt for their teams, thinking saying they had earned the road too dearly to let them pass us again, and in a few moments we were all on the go again."

Near Fort Laramie, Sarah Sutton (1854) saw a number of Indians as she passed "three trading post to day. . . the half starved indians gathered around us, and wanted to swap mocosons and beads for bread and we got some."

At the other end of Wyoming, John M. McGlashan (1850) arrived at Fort Bridger, which he described as " a rectangular building built of sun-dried brick and is now occupied as a trading post." He went on to note that "Around the fort there is more grass that is to be met with in several days journey. Here all were willing to rest a day, the animals giving unmistakable proof of the need of rest. The distence (sic.) from the Missouri to this place is about 1200 miles."

Camped on LaBonte River, William G. Johnston (1849) described the scenery as being "grand along the line of march; the mountain chain with its succession of peaks was very picturesque, but barrenness and desolation were striking characteristics."

This day James Frear (1852) passed Horseshoe Creek and the Dalles of the Platte "where the river rushes through a large hill & rocks, perpendicular, said by some to be 4 or 500 feet high,is the most that I can call it. however it is a grand scene to witness." That night he and his party encamped on "A. La Prele River where we found good grass".

Copyright Robert Munkres 1981-2009 All Rights Reserved