This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 22, 1850
“Started early. Roads tolerably good. No timber to be seen. The country presents rather a romantic appearance, yet. All the company in good health, except John Glenn, who has been unwell since we started. Camped on a beautiful nob; but had no wood to cook with. This night we were visited with one of the most desolating storms of rain and wind that ever earth was drenched with. The thunder was deafening and the lightning seemed to be all the while playing with the wagon tires. It never rains here, but it pours. This night the guards were compelled to use a little of the overjoyful, to keep up a medium temperature and stimulate them, in their arduous and dangerous task. We now secure our cattle by means of a corrall—which is made by placing all the wagons in a circle, fastening the tongue of each one with log-chains to the hind wheel of the one in front of it— leaving a space or gap of 20 or 30 feet, to drive in at; Guards are placed at the gap of the corrall and some around other parts of it. This was truly a gloomy night; but this I suppose is only a foretaste of things, unseen but soon to come.” – John Wood. John’s diary can be viewed here. The illustration “Mormon Party in a Snow Storm” is by William Henry Jackson and was downloaded here. It is displayed on one of the panels in the Great Plains room of the California Trail Interpretive Center.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 23, 1849
“Camp aroused at 3 A.M. and moved on at 9…. Had to leave the unfortunate No. 2 wagon with the [?] axele broken, 10 miles from Kerny to repair the damage. Afternoon reached a narrow stream, with deep soft banks – very brushy, over which was a very loose cap bridge, against a larger tree inclining over it. I cautioned the train, and 2 wagons passed safely, when the 3rd kept too near the left, and was precipitated into the muddy brushy stream. The driver leap’d off the saddle mule and 2 sick men jump’d out behind as the wagon went over, & saved themselves a concussion. Their mules were cut loose & extricated getting off with scratches only, and a broken axele, bolsters, & bows, and wetting some of the freight, was the extent of the damage. Wagon hauled out and repacked, mules hitch’d up again, bridge repaired, and in half an hour we moved on again, the teamster cracking his whip and singing out ‘let her rip.’” – J. Goldsborough Bruff. Bruff’s handwritten diary can be viewed here. The bridge photo was downloaded here.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 24, 1847
“We are now about 180 miles from Independence, and the company of priests have left us. A heavy rain fell this morning. This is the place for everything, laughing, scolding, whining, whistling and singing. Some find everything better than they expected; others worse. One can hardly imagine the grand scene of a company of emigrants moving over the prairies — the roads lined for miles with wagons, and men driving loose cattle. All are required to carry their guns but teamsters, and they have them near at hand in their wagons.” – Chester Ingersoll. The book of Chester’s letters from the Trail can be viewed here. The image is of the Great Plains diorama in the California Trail Interpretive Center.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 25, 1864
“This morning there is 12 head of oxen missing but they are hunting them. They are Ming’s oxen. I am better this morning eat no breakfast got well enough to eat a hearty dinner. Traveled all day through prairie camped at a ranch which is the 6th we have passed this the best one the ranch-man having corn, pies, eggs and coffee for sale and good spring Etc. These ranchers are the only inhabitants in this part of the country. They live exclusively by trading with Emigrants buying and exchanging for sore footed cattle, selling hay and corn. Traveled 14 miles.” – Garland Jefferson Mahan. Garland’s diary can be downloaded here. The image is of the Great Plains diorama in the California Trail Interpretive Center.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 26, 1863
“We are now camped about twelve miles below Cotten Wood Springs. This morning we met a party of Sues, men & squaws, on horse back & a foot. They had their “lodg poles” fastened on their ponys sides with the ends draging on the ground; on these poles behind the ponys the squaws & paposes rode, they also had their tent skins & other things lashed to the poles. They also had a dog geared up in the same manner carrying some article. These poles, after they get to the end of their journey or when they stop, they set up & spread buffalo skins over making a round tent or a “lodg” as the fronteer men say We are now in the Sue country. The most of the indians are naked with the exception of a robe drawn around their shoulders, some of them are partialy clothed with old cloths that was given or traded to them by the whites. One probably with a shirt alone, another with an old pair of pants, another with a coat &c. We passed a camp of indians this evening also a prarie dog town. The prarie dogs are very watchful & when anyone is approaching their towns they set up a hollowing & scamper for their holes.” – James Pressley Yager. Yager’s diary was published in six parts in the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, the first part of which can be downloaded here. The horse travois picture was downloaded here.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 27, 1850
“Sunrise found us under way. In a few miles we turned from the river westward, across a wide plain; then among sand ridges, where the wagons moved slowly on the soft road. Noon came, but finding no water, we kept on; night overtook us, and still no water. But the tired teams must rest, so the guards were called, and the oxen unyoked. The poor animals, as if in despair, lay down. All, men and oxen, were alike suffering with thirst. When, in the morning, we left Loup River, we had no idea that some forty miles must be traversed before again finding water, but such was the painful fact. Some put up their tents, but most spread their blankets on the sand and tried in sleep to forget their thirst. Toward morning, the oxen, rising to their feet, by their uneasiness seemed to insist on hunting a drink; so the guards aroused the camp, and with early dawn the train was moving, and all except the drivers deployed in search of water. But it was nearly noon when the train reached Prairie Creek; so named from the total absence of timber.” – John Steele. Steele’s diary can be viewed here. The illustration is from the title page of Steele’s published diary.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 28, 1845
“Fine weather. Remained in camp until 12 o’clock. The Rear Division had now passed us two hours. Came up with the Middle Division about 1 o’clock. They were making preparations to start. Just before we came up with them, we discovered the hills covered with Indians, which created a great deal of alarm but it was soon understood that they were a party going out to hunt. They numbered about 200 and presented a fine sight winding their way down the hills . A few came up to our waggons but the main body went off to the left. We met several of their hunting party and of one we got some antelope meat. This night we encamped between the middle and rear divisions of the Emigrants , being about 500 yards apart. The encampments had the appearance of a large military force, their regularity and order at a distance would have deceived the most practiced eye.” – Jacob R. Snyder. Snyder’s diary can be viewed here. The picture is from the Quarterly of the Society of California Pioneers which contains Snyder’s diary.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 29, 1859
“Weather fine. We don’t travel on the Sabath and shall stay here today. We have good food for our cattle & plenty of wood and water. But I feel some lonsesome. I should like very much to have the privilege of attending church today with my Dear wife & children. Some of our company are building a canoe this morning to go cross the River to get our mail with. Some of thoes that have no perticular regard for the sabath have gone out hunting. Learned last night that there were thousands of Buffalo, about 8 or 10 miles north of us. Some men that are camped near us have been out and killed five…. About noon today we were all called out to look at three Buffalo that came over the sand hills in site. We took a spy glass & could see them quite plain. These were the first live Buffalo that I have seen.” – Ira P. Larnard. Ira’s handwritten diary can be viewed here. The painting by William Henry Jackson is held in the collection of Scotts Bluff National Monument and can also be seen on a panel in the Great Plains room of the California Trail Interpretive Center.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 30, 1849
“Made a good start and up this beautiful Valley is along here some ten miles wide and the river from two to 6 miles wide spotted all over with islands from a very small size up to a large Island with but little wood on them the bluffs present a very handsome appearance a collection of high knolls some scattering alder bushes are seen on them. We made 22 miles this day, with a high north west wind against us very cool and disagreeable all day.” – James Tate. Tate’s diary can be downloaded here. George Catlin painted this picture of the Platte in 1832 and it was downloaded here.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – May 31, 1850
“This day we drove 28 miles and passed several other companies under way. At night we made use of buffalo chips for the first time to cook our supper with. I was agreeably disappointed when we got the fire started and found that they burned so much better than I expected. It is not a hard matter to find them, for they are plentiful.” – Jerome Dutton. Jerome’s diary can be viewed here. The illustration is from page 203 of the 1881 book “The Young Nimrods in North America” by Thomas Wallace Knox and can be viewed here.