During the month of June we’ll present diary excerpts from a “virtual journey” along the California Trail. The portion of trail covered during this hypothetical June journey is shown in the Google Earth image, ranging from Nebraska east of the confluence of the North and South forks of the Platte River to Casper, Wyoming.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – June 1, 1853
“It rained & thundered and stormed all night. We awoke up and found the water pouring through the tent which completely drenched us wetting the bed clothes so much that we could ring the water out. We rolled out early, traveled over a sandy bottom land, crossed about 20 slues and a number of creeks. Mud was very deep and up to the waggon beds in the slues. We had to double team to haul them out. Encamped on the bottom. We passed a small grave yard. Roads awful wet & muddy, weather showery & cool.” – William Richard Brown. William’s partial (odd-pages only) diary can be downloaded from the Oregon-California Trail Association’s website at https://www.octa-journals.org/merrill-mattes-collection/an-authentic-wagon-train-journal-william-richard-brown-1852. William’s portrait sketch is from that publication.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – June 2, 1852
“left 6 Oclock, went, through some high sand hills and passed over some brooks all springs from the sand saw some part of a Buffaloe that had been killed lately passed close [clothes] thrown away on the Road Bed Close, Bags, Saddle, Irons, both heavy & Light of all kinds nooned about mile from the Platt, grass very short on Acct. of so many teams, afternoon left at 2 oClock, passed a great many Fires, Irons of Waggons, Wheels, ground dogs killed by people passing the whole Plains dug up by them camp’d all night on the banks of the Platt. 5 Oclock passed one grave 1849, from where I could not tell, we camp’ d all night good Buffaloe grass & plenty water” – Thomas Turnbull. Thomas’ diary can be viewed at https://archive.org/details/tturnbullstravel01turn/page/166/mode/2up. The painting is from the California Trail Wayside exhibit in Fernley, NV.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – June 3, 1853
“Decamped about 7 O’ A.M. preparatory to crossing the [South Platte] river which is at present high and the fording difficult. Compelled to raise the beds of our wagons some eight inches to secure our loading. Got safely over about , at least with no accident more serious than A. Allen’s loosing his hat. Started on our march, over a hilly though rather beautiful country, about 1 O’ P.M. Dark clouds in the S.W. muttering Thunder soon gave us warning that a storm was marshaling its forces but in hopes that it might pass round us we continued our journey. Our hopes however were not realized as it struck us in about 3/4 of an hour accompanied by a perfect gale from the South. Teams horsemen and loose cattle were all obliged to turn their backs and take it as best they could. It lasted about half an hour when we wheeled into line and moved on, only a short distance however as the indications were very strong that we should soon be again submitted to another course of hydropathy. Camped at half past 3 O’clock P.M. in a small ravine, which in ordinary seasons must be dry but now conveying a small stream of water. Rained more or less the night. Grass tolerable, and water of course. No wood except a few dry willow bushes which we had gathered along the river bank and some rather damp buffalo chips which had been scoured before the shower. With these our cooks managed to get us up a very good supper of buffalo meat warm bread and coffee, the preparation of which we watched with craving stomachs, having had nothing for several meals but sea biscuit – and some milk. Prospect of an unpleasant night.” – Joseph Richard Bradway. Bradway’s original handwritten letters containing his journal entries can be viewed at https://catalog.princeton.edu/catalog/3411113#view. The painting “Crossing the South Platte” was downloaded from the William Henry Jackson collection of Scotts Bluff National Monument at http://www.whjcollection.com/default.htm.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – June 4, 1850
“In the morning it was raining some and Mr. Frink got breakfast. We had been closely on the lookout, and at three o’clock we came in sight of the famous “Court-house Rock,” eighteen miles distant, and many miles south of the road. It presented a very imposing appearance. “Chimney Rock” also came in sight, about thirty miles further on. Our camp at night was made nearly opposite the Court-house Rock, and six miles distant; but the atmosphere was so clear that it did not seem to be more than a mile away. Many persons, thinking they could walk to the rock in a few minutes, would start out on foot to examine it more closely; but after walking for an hour, finding it to be as far off as ever, apparently, would give up the attempt.” – Margaret A. Frink. Margaret’s diary can be viewed at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101079825640&view=1up&seq=56. The painting “From Courthouse Rock to Scott’s Bluff (Chimney Rock)” by William Henry Jackson was downloaded from https://mona.unk.edu/mona/william-henry-jackson-mona-collection/.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – June 5, 1849
“Started at 8 passed 3 government trains with troops about 50 waggons to each train one Regiment for California – have passed 760 waggons up to this log. Since leaving St. Joe. Made about 30 miles to day encamped near a company of Mormons – got from them an abundance of Buttermilk – Sweet milk & exhanged our Lantern [?] for Butter – had an excellent supper of butter cakes – no wood. use buffalo chips – exchanged our frying pan for one with a handle – got the Mules Shoes tightened – turnd in about 10 oclock – heavy Showers during the night took 5 others in our tent stood guard 1 1/4 hour had no room to lie down afterwards Saw today several trains of waggons on the opposite side the river. Strong wind all day from the S. E. dust very uncomfortable” – William Chamberlain. Chamberlain’s diary can be downloaded from the OCTA website at https://www.octa-journals.org/merrill-mattes-collection/diary-william-e-chamberlain-1848-1849. The painting “Fort Kearney” was downloaded from the William Henry Jackson collection of Scotts Bluff National Monument at http://www.whjcollection.com/default.htm.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – June 6, 1855
“This morning it is clear & cold We arrived at Scotts Bluffs about ten A.M. I should hear mention that these Bluffs were named after a Rocky Mountain Trapper who died here with starvation A quite interesting storrey in relation to it is found in the Pararie Flower it mentions a spring near where he died which I did not see We have been in sight – of these two days at the distance of ten miles a person would almost imagine that he was in the Oreantal world & was approaching the ruins of a Babalon It seems to me that centuries ago it has been a mountain & has washed away till nuthing is left but the clay & sand which has formed into stone The highest point is about 400 ft above the level of the Platt they cover considerable an extent of land & are formed into all shapes immaginable One pile resembles a splendid dome while in other places they look like Promontories extending thier rocky frunts into the Ocean of Pararie which evry where surrounds them They are beautifully decorated with small spreding ceadars The waughter has washed deep gulleys in which the wild Rose & other beautiful flowers abound” – Edwin R. Bird. Edwin’s handwritten diary can be viewed at https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/Diaries/id/7724. The painting “Scotts Bluff” was downloaded from the William Henry Jackson collection of Scotts Bluff National Monument at http://www.whjcollection.com/default.htm.
This day in Trail history – A composite journey along the California Trail – June 7, 1849
“Busied ourselves in making preparations for crossing the river and about 1. o’clock we swam our mules over, but we were unable to cross all our waggons on account of a tremendous hail Storm which lasted an hour detained the Ferry, and came near ‘stampeding’ all our mules. At night we had 7 waggons across the river and we would have worked untill all were over but it became Cloudy and the wind blew fresh so we could not work to advantage. Rained hard in the night.” – Joseph Waring Berrien. Berrien’s company were near present-day Casper, Wyoming preparing to cross the North Platte River. His diary can be downloaded from the Indiana Magazine of History at https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/issue/view/904. The 1849 illustration by J. Goldsborough Bruff was downloaded from https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/crossing-north-platte-river.