This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 15, 1850
“We elected to lay by to rest our animals, have some of our wagons repaired, wash and etc. Today we again discovered a herd of 13 buffalo feeding among the sand hills, near a mile off. As soon as this was made known in camp, most all of the boys (as eager as young hounds for the chase at the blowing of the horn) shouldered their rifles and set forth to encounter the huge and unweildy animals, each eager to make a buffalo his prey, thus account himself gallantly over his companions. So thus equipped and prepared, the buffalo soon hove into sight, and as might be expected (without a commander), they made a fruitless charge, fired several guns, to no effect. The buffalo soon scampered off, at a proper and practicable distance for their comfort and safety from the young and enthusiastic hunters. To those young gents, ever afterward, acknowledged the universal adage “that experience keeps a dear school and folks will learn in no other,” and that “experience is the best of knowledge”, and “a wise man will hear counsel”, though he may think that it comes from his inferior, were every man equally self-important, those men cannot get along in peace and harmony together. No, where all the stone of a house lean apart, this house cannot stand long if the storms of adversity blow against it. Thus, our Savior admonishes us. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Man was created a dependent and helpless creature, a worshipper not to be worshipped. Consequently, the heathen bow down to sticks and stones as their superior. The christian worship their God and none other. Though we are all born with certain inalienable rights and among these are life, liberty etc., yet we must all have a leader or commander when we wish to accomplish any end conjointly and together, for as the “Father of his Country” said in his farewell address to his countrymen United we stand, divided we fall”. Union is strength, division is weakness”. Thus, you may discover that it is highly necessary to have very strict discipline in compact organized bodies of men, where there is any danger or much to accomplish.” – William Riley Franklin. Franklin’s journal can be viewed and downloaded here. The 1844 painting by George Catlin was downloaded here.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 16, 1852
“Sabbath 16th this morning was so cold that I was obliged to stay I bed untill after breakfast, it was equal to a day in January the winds very high and piercing never experienced such winds as we have here, this day has not been much like Sabbath I have been obliged to do many things which I was loath do on Sabbath, we were so late last night when we got over the river and camped and all so wearied that we left undone many things, our provisions got wet and they all had to be unpacked to air and then packed again, part of our men had take our cattle a mile further to graze, and stay with them all day. I had to bake biscuit as we were out of bread, the first time I ever done so on Sabbath and I hope it will not have to be so again. No one can imagine what they will have to do, or what they are to come through before trying it. Have seen a few of the trials of our journey, have suffered a good deal from the cold to day, the winds are so high that we cannot keep fire enough to warm us out of doors, if I were in the States now I would be sitting in a comfortable house beside a fire, but our house is the open air, we have not had preaching to day it was too cold out and we have not tent large enough besides we were all too busy to think about it. I have not had time even to read, Mr Hann is so harassed through the week that he cannot find time to prepare a sermon as he would like we have prayers every evening in our tent.” – Esther Belle McMillan Hanna. Esther’s diary can be downloaded here. The image accompanies Esther’s diary at that site.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 17, 1849
“Our road was miry through the greater part of the day, and crossed by frequent gullies in which small streams, formed by the recent rain, found their way to the river. Our course, in general, lay along the sand bluffs which hem in the valley; the Platte being about two miles off. Rain continued to fall at intervals, and at our morning camp we were nearly deluged while preparing breakfast. While thus engaged, two men approached who were pursuing their journey to California, alone and on foot. Their tent was an umbrella; and in packs borne on their backs, they carried provisions to last them about thirty days, expecting to get fresh supplies at forts on the way. They started from some point on the Missouri River, and thus far have passed all trains they came in sight of. We permitted them to fry bacon at our fire, and furnished them coffee to drink, for which they were very thankful. We passed a prairie dog village, consisting of hundreds of conical shaped mounds, about two feet high. No dogs were visible; inclement weather probably kept them within doors. Today, for the first time, we came in sight of buffalo. A herd of immense size was seen on the northern side of the Platte. We watched some men belonging to an emigrant train, who attempted to ford the river in pursuit of this large game. All, however, were forced to return, for the animals they rode were unable to keep their feet in the uncertain sands forming the bed of the stream. An hour or so later, while riding in advance of the train, some of our hunters gave chase to three buffalo, but were unable to overtake them. A large company, having the name “St. Louis Telegraph Co.” painted on their wagon covers, passed us whilst nooning, but we encamped beyond them at night. Distance, twenty-five miles” – William G. Johnston. William’s diary can be viewed here. The drawing comes from Johnston’s book.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 18, 1850
“When the camp-master designates the ground on which we are to encamp at night, the wagons are arranged in the form of a hollow-square, the tents being pitched in spaces between the wagons. The horses are then turned loose to graze until dark, when they are taken up and fastened, either to the wagons or to stakes driven into the ground, near the center of the encampment. Numerous fires are then built, with such fuel as can be obtained, with which to cook. Candles are lighted in the tents; small bands of music begin to play; songs are sung in various quarters; stories are told, and all try to entertain themselves in the best way they can.” – Franklin Langworthy. Franklin’s diary can be viewed here. The 1853 painting “Advice on the Prairie” by William Tylee Ranney is displayed on a panel in the Great Plains room of the California Trail Interpretive Center. The original is held at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and was downloaded here.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 19, 1852
“Beautiful morning the Dr. said I could ride his horse if I liked, & having my saddle yet, I gladly excepted it; for it is tiresome riding in the waggon all the while, & every waggon should be provided, with at least one good horse, for the company to ride when they are weary, or when they wish to go out & hunt; for it is very hard to go off from the road a hunting, & perhaps kill some game, & then have it to carry & overtake the teams; for as slow a[s] an ox teem may seem to move, they are very hard to catch up with, when you fall behind an hour or two. and you need a horse also, to ride through & drive the team in all bad places, & to get up your cattle without getting your feet wet, by wading in water or dew; if such exposures as these were avoided, I do not think there would be as much sickness as there usually is, along here, for we have not passed less than 100 fresh graves from St. Joseph to the Blue river. See some dead stalk, the wolves have a feast, hope they will not disturb the graves.” – Lodisa Frizzell. Lodisa’s diary can be viewed here. The map is one of many illustrations Lodisa drew and that are found in her journal.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 20, 1846
“Our driver was helplessly sick this morning from the effects of an over-night’s drunken frolic, upon some wretched, adulterated whiskey which he had procured somewhere in the camp. We were compelled to employ a new driver for the day, and to haul our old one in the wagon…. I saw near the trail this morning, a solitary wild rose, the first I have seen blooming in the prairies, the delightful fragrance of which instantly excited emotions of sadness and tenderness, by reviving in the memory a thousand associations connected with home, and friends, and civilization, all of which we had left behind, for a weary journey through a desolate wilderness. It is not possible to describe the effect upon the sensibilities produced by this modest and lonely flower. The perfume exhaled from its petals and enriching the “desert air,” addressed a language to the heart more thrilling than the plaintive and impassioned accents from the inspired voice of music or poesy.” – Edwin Bryant. Edwin’s book, “What I Saw in California” can be viewed and downloaded here. The painting is by Mary Vaux Walcott, held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and downloaded here.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 21, 1850
“An early start and continued exertion enabled us to pitch our tent twenty miles farther on the road. Eight or nine miles brought us to a creek with very steep and muddy banks, rendering it exceedingly difficult of crossing, so much so that several hundred wagons had accumulated before we were off. In a distance of a few miles several other little creeks were passed over upon toll bridges. One belonged to some frenchmen, who had Indian wives.—They were well fixed, good farms and a sawmill. Across one of the creeks were two bridges, such as they were, belonging to two Indian youths who were dressed very gaudily. It was amusing to witness their spirit of rivalry. One asked five cents and the other ten. The one who asked ten cents would point out the defects of the others bridge, the rival would speak of the difference of price. We decided upon the best bridge and over we went leaving them to settle the difficulty as best they could. About fifteen miles from the Baptist mission is one belonging to the Roman Catholics. From appearances, it dates further back than the other and seemed to be in quite a flourishing condition. A great many of the Potawotamies live around and have nice fields. Game, in the way of wolves, prairie chickens, Plovers, gofers and Rattle snakes! abound, especially the latter. The number we assassinated was from three to five a day taking no pains to find them nor killing all we saw. The weather was pleasant—all were well and cheerful. We felt that the prairie was our home and would be for some time to come. It was our couch and our dependence for the sustenance of our mules. How pure and balmy the air;—how brightly shone the sun and how transporting was the scene!” – Madison Berryman Moorman. Madison’s diary can be viewed here. Madison’s portrait is found in the front of his published journal.
I’ll post the next set on May 22.