Tag: Wagon Trains

The Value of Old Diaries

 

This country is amazing. Truly. Freedom is the bedrock of our foundation and when it came to settlement, the adventurers, the dreamers, the wealthy, and the down and out all had the same opportunities. I think a lot about those early men and women who took a chance. Thank goodness for a written record of their struggles which provide a glimpse into the rigors of such a journey. I don’t know about you, but I find it engrossing.

A friend gave me a copy of Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel and it’s fascinating reading. Here are a few of their entries:

“I write on my lap with the wind rocking my wagon.” Wrote Algeline Ashley.

The following are notations by Lydia Allen Rudd. She was traveling to Oregon with her husband Harry:

May 7…I found myself this morning with a severe headache from the effects of yesterday’s rain. There was a toll bridge across the stream kept by the Indians. The toll for our team in total was six bits. (about 75 cents)

May 8…We have come about 12 miles and made camp in the open prairie without any wood. We collected dry weeds and grass to make a fire and for supper cooked some meat and the last of our eggs with some hard bread with water.

May 9…We passed a new grave today…a man from Ohio. We also met a man that was going back. He had buried his wife this morning. She died from measles.

May 11…We passed another grave dug only this morning. The board stated he died of cholera and was from Indiana.

May 13…Soon after we stopped tonight a man, a Dutchman, came along with a wheel barrow going to California. He wheels his provisions and clothing all day and then stops for the night and sleeps on the ground in the open air. He ate raw meat and bread for his supper. I think he will get tired wheeling his way through the world.

May 14…Just after starting this morning we passed four men digging a grave. The man that had died was taken sick yesterday of cholera about noon and died last night. The corpse lay on the ground a few feet away. It was a sad sight. 

May 18…The wind has blown a perfect cloud of dust, covering us all with dirt. You could not tell the color of our skin.

October 27…We have reached Burlington. There is no house we can get to winter in. I expect that we shall not make a claim after all our trouble getting here. I shall have to be poor and dependent on a man my whole lifetime.

Another woman—Amelia Stewart Knight – is traveling with her husband and seven children and she’s pregnant with her eighth which she delivers by the roadside just before reaching Oregon. She mentions how the Native Americans along with way were much-needed guides and helpful in telling the men where to hunt.

May 14…Winds so high that we dare not make a fire and impossible to pitch a tent. The wagons can hardly stand the wind. Our wagon is full and some have to stay out in the storm. Some of the boys lost their hats.

May 17…We had a dreadful storm last night and very sharp lightning that killed one man and two oxen. The wind was so high I thought it would tear the wagon to pieces. Nothing but the stoutest canvas could stand it. The rain beat into the wagons so that everything was drenched. We woke surrounded by water and our saddles have been soaking in it all night and are almost ruined.

May 31…We traveled 25 miles today. This morning there were two large droves of cattle and about 50 wagons ahead of us. We either had to stay poking behind or attempt to pass them. The drovers threatened to drive the cattle over you if you tried to pass. They even took out their pistols. Husband came up just as one man pointed his pistol at Wilson Carl. We took out across the prairie and had a rather rough ride but were glad to be away from such a lawless bunch. We are now within 100 miles of Fort Laramie.

June 6…Still in camp. Husband and myself are sick. We supposed by drinking the river water that looked more like dirty suds.

July 28…Chatfield (her young son) is quite ill with scarlet fever.

Sept 5…Passed a sleepless night as a good many of the Indians camped around us were drunk and noisy and kept up a continual racket which made all our hands uneasy and kept our poor dog on watch.

Sept 17…Gave birth to my eighth child after which we ferried across the Columbia River. Here husband traded two yoke of oxen for a half section of land with one half acre planted in potatoes and a small log cabin and lean-to with no windows. We’re home.

These diaries are invaluable. To say the trip was difficult is an understatement. There was nothing to look forward to each day except more of the same that battered the mind and spirit. We owe them all our admiration and respect, especially the women who followed their men and given little say in the situation. They were truly hardy souls.

Would you have kept soldiering on day after day? I’d like to think I had what it took, but I really believe I would’ve been one of those who turned back.

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Moving, Moving, Moving…

Hello everyone! Over that past two months, I have been in the process of moving from Nevada to Montana, and today is a banner day for me—I unloaded the last box from the trailer and have officially transported all my belongings to my new home…except for my coat, which I accidentally left in my old house.

This is my "wagon train".

This is my “wagon train”–a truck for me, a truck for my husband and a truck driven by the best friends ever.

This was not an easy move—in addition to household and personal items, we had to move the horses, the stuff in the barn, the stuff in shop…lots and lots and lots of stuff. Toward the end I began to doubt the value of stuff in general and minimalism began to look so much more attractive! But we persevered, put 16,000 miles on our truck since the beginning of summer and found a lot of new places to eat far from home.

A section of the original Applegate Trail.

A section of the original Applegate Trail.

I’m tired, but also very appreciative of the technology that allows me to move with relative ease, compared to what people went through to move across the country during the latter part of the nineteenth century. My home in Nevada was very close to the California and Applegate Trails. I’ve seen the roads and the country these brave people crossed in wagons, on horseback and on foot.

Westward Expansion Trails

Westward Expansion Trails

From the 1840s to the 1860s more than 200,000 people crossed the prairies, heading west to start new lives. A tenth of those people died on the trail. People traveled together in wagon trains, consisting of 20 to 40 wagons, often led by an experienced scout. The journey from Independence, Missouri to Oregon or California took between three and six months. The trail to California was about 2,000 miles long and an average wagon train traveled between 10 and 20 miles a day depending on terrain and weather.

The emigrants usually left in the spring, late enough so that there would be grass on the prairies to feed the livestock, but early enough to ensure that they could cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains before the heavy snow fell.

It cost an average of $1,000 to make the journey, which was a huge amount of money in those days. The average wagon carried between 1,600 and 2,000 pounds of “stuff”, including food for the journey. The wagon trains stopped in various forts along the way, which allowed the people to replenish supplies.

After the Union Pacific Railroad was completed in 1869, wagons trains declined, but were still used as late as 1890.

I hope you enjoyed this brief wagon train snapshot. It’s certainly put my move into perspective.

Have a great day!

Jeannie

How Wild Was the Old West—Really?

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I heard a TV commentator liken the violence of Baltimore back to the Old West. Is that a fair comparison? Some historians would probably disagree. Some have even gone as far as to describe the Old West as “a quiet, peaceful and law-abiding place.” Hard as that is to believe they may be on to something for the following reasons:

The Old West Practiced Gun Control

dodge-gunsYep, that’s right. In fact, the very first law passed in Dodge City was a gun control law. Many towns including Tombstone had similar strict laws barring guns. Visitors were required to turn guns over to the stable owner or sheriff. Checks or receipts were issued much like they are today when checking coats at a restaurant. Gun owners could reclaim their weapons upon leaving town.

Not everyone followed the law, of course. Drunkenness and disorderly conduct would get you a free pass to the hoosegow, but so would toting a gun. The gunfight of OK corral was actually sparked by an effort to enforce the “no gun” law.

Gun control made economical sense. Towns wishing to attract businesses and commerce or even the railroad couldn’t afford to let crime run amok.

The Law of Wagon Trainswagon
Some wagon trains reportedly contained more than a hundred wagons and as many as 800 people, so keeping law and order was of primary concern. Many of these trains had their own constitutions which spelled out a judicial system. Ostracism and threats of banishment kept most travelers in line and there are few reported instances of violence on these trains. That’s pretty amazing considering the conditions and long months on the trail.

What About All That Cattle Rustling?

cowsIf we believed all those old time Western movies there wasn’t a steer in the land that hadn’t been rustled at least once. No question; Cattle rustling was a problem. That is until ranch owners got together and formed cattlemen associations. These groups hired private protection agencies, which pretty much put cattle rustlers out of business.

Bank Robbers Ruled, Right?

Wrong again. According to the book Banking in the American West from the Gold Rush to Deregulation by bankLynne Pierson and Larry Schweikart, only eight actual bank heists occurred in the 15 states that made up the frontier west during the forty year period between 1859-1900. (Holy Toledo! My little hometown has had more bank robberies than that just in the last decade.)

Why so few bank robberies in the Old West? The answer is simple; Banks were hard to rob. Banks were located downtown often next the sheriff’s office. People slept above shops so the town was far from deserted. The bank’s walls were often doubly-reinforced. Blasting through the walls would wake everyone in town including the sheriff.

Some, like Butch Cassidy simply walked in the front door, but even that type of bank holdup was rare. Robbing stagecoaches was easier. But transporting money by stage fell out of favor when trains came along. Robbers who shifted attention to trains soon had to contend with Pinkerton detectives.

What About All Those Gunslingers?

gunDime novels, old newspapers and movies would have us believe that shooting from the hip and quick draw duels were the norm. In reality, gunfights were few and far between.

Some well-known shootists (the word gunslinger didn’t come into play until the 1920s) deserved their reputations but, by today’s standards, most would be considered lousy shots. Some, like Wyatt Earp, killed nowhere near as many men as they were given credit for. A gunslinger’s reputation, however exaggerated, was sometimes more valuable than his skills.

Peter Hill, co-author of  the Not so Wild, Wild, West wrote “If one wants to see the “Wild, Wild West” in action one should turn to congressional hearings, political demonstrations and arguments over recreational and consumptive vs. non-consumptive uses of forest lands.”  Now there’s a thought…It kind of makes you wonder what those old cowpokes would have thought about the recent riots.

So what do you think? Was the Old West a quiet, peaceful and law-abiding place or wasn’t it?

Speaking of Wild:

Maggie Michaels is sent to Arizona Territory as an undercover mail order bride to track down the notorious Whistle-Stop Bandit. If she doesn’t prove the suspect guilty before the wedding—she could end up as his wife!

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Available in print, eBook or Audio

"Wagons, Ho!" by Agnes Alexander

THE FILLIES WELCOME AGNES ALEXANDER 
Agnes AlexanderThe first time I visited the states west of the Mississippi I knew I’d one day write a book set in that beautiful country.  At the time I was immersed in raising my daughter, working as a human resource manager and writing short stories and articles for the local newspaper, children’s Sunday school papers and regional magazines. I even wrote and sold three children’s books based on the work I did at my church with young people.  But the idea of writing novels stayed in the back of my mind.
Fiona's_JourneyFinally, I decided I’d waited long enough. I began writing novels. Three of those first attempts still rest in my desk drawer, but I sold my fourth manuscript – a mystery. Thirteen more mystery, romantic suspense, and mainstream books followed. Then I joined RWA and Carolina Romance Writers where I sat across the table from my idol and fellow member, Harold Lowery (aka Leigh Greenwood).  To say I was awed, is putting it mildly. He remarkedthat people should write what they like to read most. Well, I had not only read everything he’d published, I’d read some of them twice and three times.
RenaCowboy_smI came home, put my mystery writing on hold, pulled out all the pictures from my three vacations in the west. I then took a trip to my favorite used bookstore and bought stacks of western romance novels by a variety of authors. In three months I’d read 200 novels and felt I had a grip on what publishers wanted. Satisfied I knew what to do, I sat down and wrote my first western historical romance. It was a time travel western that didn’t sell at the time, but I wasn’t deterred. I looked through my notes and saw I had a lot of information on wagon trains. I also remembered ‘Western the Women,’ one of my favorite movies, and felt I had to write a novel about pioneers going west.
The large Conestoga wagons were too long and heavy to make the trip so the prairie schooner became the wagon of choice. Many of the immigrants traveling westconverted their farm wagons into ones that could make the trip. Oxen were recommended to pull these wagons because they had no trouble eating the different grasses, though some families chose mules and others horses. One of the most interesting items in my research was the list that many wagon masters put together about what a family needed in the way of food, clothing, and tools to make this journey.
camillaCOVERFood recommended for each adult: 150 pounds of flour, 20 pounds of corn meal, 50 pounds of bacon, 40 pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of coffee, 5 pounds of salt, 5 pounds of rice, 15 pounds of dried fruit and 15 pounds of dried beans. For each child: 1/2 to 2/3 of an adult portion.Many travelers added their favorite foods such as tea, potatoes, dried vegetables and other items. Some brought along a cow for milk to drink and butter, which was churned in a barrel tied to the side of the wagon as the vehicle swayed and bounced along the trail.
Clothing: Each person brought at least two changes of clothes and undergarments, multiple pairs of boots (two to three pairs often wore out on the trip because most people walked). Wool was recommended because it held up well and deflected the sun better than cotton. A sewing kit was a must because items tended to wear out or get torn.
Other necessities were rifles, hand guns, knives, tobacco, ropes, tents, tin dishes, soap, simple cooking utensils, bedding, matches, and medical supplies such as herbs, whiskey, and simple remedies.
Costs could run between $600 and $1,000 to outfit a wagon for this journey.
The book I wrote about the Oregon Trail is Fiona’s Journey, whichcame out in 2012 and was my first published western romance. I now have six western romances published and hope to write many more since I feel I’ve found my place in the writing world.
I love hearing from readers. You can contact me at my websiteor by email at agnesalexander100@gmail.com.

 

Thank you for inviting me to write a blog for Petticoats & Pistols. To show my appreciation I’m offering an autographed print copy of Fiona’s Journey, Rena’s Cowboy (the time-travel I mention above and my latest novel Camilla’s Daughters for drawings. Just leave a comment to be entered.

The Lost Wagon Train

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There’s nothing like a good mystery to capture our imagination and flight Malaysian airlines Flight 370 has certainly done that.  Such puzzling disappearances, however, are not new.  The Old West had some very intriguing mysteries of its own.  I especially like the following mystery because it’s also a love story.
WAGONIn the late nineteenth century, A wagon train with a half dozen teams disappeared without a trace in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  The team leader was Edward Earle, a widower who left behind a five year old daughter named Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s aunt took over her care, but the child never stopped waiting for her father to walk in the door.  As she grew older the question continued to haunt her; how does a wagon train simply vanish?
At the age of twenty, Elizabeth took a teaching job to relieve her aunt of her care.  Around this time a young man by the name of Henry Merryweather began courting her, but she showed little interest in him or marriage.
Certain that her father’s mysterious disappearance was holding her back Merryweather set out to find the missing wagon train. It was now fifteen years later and his chances didn’t look good, but he was convinced that solving the mystery was the only way to win her heart.
LAKE
After days of exploring the area where the wagon train was last seen he noticed a dam and small lake.  The young trees told him the lake had been formed fairly recently.  Looking up he realized the lake had been created by a major landslide.
Could this be the answer to the mystery that had haunted his beloved all these years?  After much digging he found a horse’s hoof. Convinced he was on the right track, he hired several men to help him dig.  It was a backbreaking job but they finally uncovered the wagon train that had been buried all those years.  Among the articles found was a strong box containing seven hundred dollars in cash belonging to Elizabeth’s father.  It also contained stock which had been worthless at the time of his death but had since gained in value.
Much to Merryweather’s profound relief Elizabeth was indebted to him for solving the mystery that had haunted her for so many years.  Not only did he win her hand in marriage—but also her heart.
 Let’s hope we don’t have to wait fifteen years to find out what happened to Flight 370.

What mysteries have kept you guessing?

www.margaret-brownley.com

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Seven Alone

Do you remember those books from your childbhood that made a lasting impression on you? I can remember walking into my elementary school library and choosing a book from the shelves because the title made me laugh – The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles – written by none other than Mary Poppins herself, Julie Andrews Edwards. That was the first book I remember reading that caused my imagination to picture a story unfolding without the use of illustrations. I was amazed that I could actually SEE the story happening in my mind.

There was another book from my childhood, however, that shaped my love for western historicals. A story that still holds me in awe today because of the courage and determination of the real family whose lives inspired the novel.

Seven Alone chronicles the tale of the Sager children who were orphaned while on the Oregon Trail. Henry and Naomi Sager joined a wagon train led by Captain William Shaw in 1844 in a quest for a better life. With them, they brought their six children: John 14, Frank 12, Catherine 9, Elizabeth 7, Matilda 5, and Louisa 3 years old. Along the trail, Naomi gave birth to child number 7 –  baby Henrietta. At first all was well with the family, but as the trip grew more arduous accidents and  sickness befell them. Catherine fell beneath a wagon and broke her leg. Then Henry fell ill. The father of the Sager family passed away and was buried on the banks of the Green River, not far from Laramie, WY. Naomi was out of her mind with grief. The women on the wagon train did all they could to help her – taking care of the baby, tending to Naomi when her grief led to illness.

They found a single man to help drive the Sager wagon, but after promising to bring back meat if allowed to use Henry’s rifle, he absconded with the weapon and was never heard from again. The doctor who had set Catherine’s leg did his best to aid the family along with Captain Shaw. Naomi struggled to hold on to life, determined to get her family to the Whitman Mission and winter there before continuing on to the Willamette. Despite her determination to hang on, Naomi Sager died near Idaho Falls.

Everyone in the wagon train pitched in to help the orphans, and by October they reached the Whitman Mission. Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, agreed to take in the Sager children. In July of the following year, Dr. Whitman petitioned for legal custody of the children. Yet, tragedy continued to follow these children. The Whitmans ministered to the Cayuse Indians, and maintained peaceful relations with them. However, as more and more settlers passed through on wagon trains, disease came with them. In 1847, an outbreak of measles decimated the Indians tribes of the area. The Cayuse held the white man responsible and attacked the Whitman Mission. The Whitman massacre claimed 14 lives at the mission including Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and the two Sager boys, John and Frank. The women and children were taken captive. Louisa Sager was one of those who died while in capitivity. One month after the massacre, Peter Ogden from the Hudson’s Bay Company, arranged for their release trading sixty-two blankets, sixty-three cotton shirts, twelve rifles, six hundred loads of ammunition, seven pounds of tobacco and twelve flints for the return of the forty-nine surviving prisoners.

Catherine, Elizabeth, and Matilda Sager meet at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Whitman massacre in November 1897.

After losing both their biological and adoptive parents, the four remaining Sager girls were split up and sent to different families. Henrietta (the baby born on the trail) died young at age 26, supposedly shot mistakenly by an outlaw. The other three girls, Catherine, Matilda, and Elizabeth all married, had children, and lived well into old age.

About ten years after her arrival in Oregon, Catherine wrote an account of the Sager family’s journey west. She hoped to earn enough money to set up an orphanage in the memory of Narcissa Whitman. She never found a publisher. Her children and grandchildren, however, saved her manuscript without modification, and today it is regarded as one of the most authentic accounts of the American westward migration.

The book Seven Alone, and the movie that followed, only chronicles the Sager children’s hardships and adventures while on the wagon train. Yet, I couldn’t resist telling the rest of the story.

So what about you? What stories (biolgraphical or purely fiction) do you remember reading as a child that made such an impact on you that you still remember them today?

Oh, and as an aside, if you haven’t read Jody Hedlund’s book The Doctor’s Lady, you might find it enjoyable. It is a fictionized account of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman’s journey west and how these two missionaries who married for convenience found love along the way.

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