I’ve been trying to keep this blog updated with work I’m doing for the California Trail Interpretive Center in Nevada. I’ve switched to daily social media posts rather than weekly, so I’ll switch to weekly updates here rather than doing one each day.
During the month of May we’ll present diary excerpts from a “virtual journey” along the California Trail. The portion of trail covered during this hypothetical May journey is shown in the Google Earth image.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 1, 1849
“The sun rose bright and clear, the birds are singing, the grass is springing and all the world ‘is love and May.’ We are nearly ready, the tent is finished and all that is needed now is the assurance that the grass has sufficient growth to furnish forage. It is reported that a few companies have folded their tents and stolen away, so as to get ahead of the waiting crowd, having taken a supply of corn to last them until there is sufficient feed.” – Ansel J. McCall. You can read McCall’s diary here. The picture of St. Joe is displayed in the California Trail Interpretive Center and came from the Illustrated London News, November 16, 1861.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 2, 1850
“Broke up camp early this morning. Road still level and very good quite free from bad sloughs Road still continues within 4 or 5 miles of the Platte. Made 26 miles and camped near the river. It is now raining considerably. The ground is very dry and a shower of rain will start the grass right up. Plenty of cotton wood timber along the streams yet, but we shall soon pass timber of all description.” – Francher Stimson. Francher’s picture is from his published diary. You can read Stimson’s diary here.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 3, 1853
“Have travelled all day on the wide Prairie … rather sandy soil and not very well wattered, No kind of vegetation not even good grass, is to be found, – About night crossed a small creek bridged by emigrants. Found a few trees and a little shrubbery….Can hear the wolves howl very distinctly. Rather Ominous, perhaps you think.” – Charlotte Emily Stearns Pengra. You can read Charlotte’s diary here. The picture of the “Prairie Wolf” is by John James Audubon from 1845 and can be viewed here.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 4, 1849
“The rain made the roads heavy this morning, but we were moving at our usual hour, over a charming, undulating country, without a tree or shrub in sight only along the streams at a distance, and whose dark verdure along the Little Namaha, in a measure indicated our general course. Once we were at fault. The old trail had become obliterated, and we pursued what we thought was the dividing ridge, till we were suddenly brought up at a bluff which formed a point on the banks of the Little Namaha. Before the train came up, we sent messengers back to turn its direction, while I jumped on a mule, and followed a small tributary a mile and a half to its source, where I found the old trail, and the dividing ridge only a few rods wide. We encamped near the tributary, where there was good grass and excellent water, after a drive of fourteen miles, and were merry over our coarse fare, laughing at the mistake of the day.” – Alonzo Delano. The picture appears in the front of Alonzo’s published diary, which can be read and downloaded here.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 5, 1850
“Got our breakfast by sunrise and concluded to go to Sandy Creek, a distance of some eight miles, where we hear that grass is much better than here, our feed being nearly out. We were disappointed, however, as we found no grass at this point, but plenty of water. The prairie here is much broken and the soil a sandy gravel, which is poor for grass. We went on some seven miles further, having traveled this day fifteen miles over good road.” – James Abbey. James’ diary can be downloaded here. The drawing is from “Our New West”, published in 1869 and can be viewed here. This etching is also displayed in the California Trail Interpretive Center.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 6, 1850
“This morning at 7 Oclock we took up the line of march on what we call a fair start for California , we have now crossed the Missouri River and are launching forth in an uninhabited country, save by the wild and savage red men of the forests, we travelled to day 27 miles over a Prairie country quite rolling 18 miles from the Missouri we crossed the Patea a handsom stream about 10 feet wide with high banks, here is a fine chance for camping , about 9 miles from the Patea we crossed the Elk Horn a fine stream about 9 rods wide and three feet deep , but difficult to foard on account of quicksand , we paid $2,00 to the wagon to get ferried across this stream , we moved out about 1/2 mile and on the Bottom of the Platte River, where we encamped for the night, some grass for our horses , we saw 15 or 20 Indians this evening and 2 or 3 traders with 4 or 5 wagon -loads of Buffalow Skins , the Indians appeared very friendly.” – Leander V. Loomis. Loomis’ book can be viewed here. The photographs are from Loomis’ book.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 7, 1849
“Travelled eighteen miles to Wolf Creek, where we encamped until the 8th, the seventh being the Sabbath day. Its sacred associations are even here with us in the wilderness, and God forbid that we should ever desecrate it. This Creek has a beautiful range of woodland, a few rods wide, along its course, which was now in full bloom, and together with a number of bluffs and mounds around its banks, all dressed with the surrounding plain in nature’s brightest, most enchanting colors, and washed by the recent rains, all combined, spread out before us a landscape, rarely excelled in grandeur; and the scene brightens, as the setting sun shed his last rays through broken clouds that floated slowly in the west, as if lingering to gild their borders in his golden beams. The full moon had just risen in the east, and poured a flood of silvery light upon the earth and sky, giving additional radiance to the scene, presenting even in the western wilds of America a twilight that would vie with an Italian eve.” – Samuel Rutherford Dundass. Dundass’ journal can be viewed here. The picture is of a portion of the Great Plains mural in the California Trail Interpretive Center.
I’ll post the next set on May 8.