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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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

77 thoughts on “The Value of Old Diaries”

    • Good morning, Jerri Lynn…..I’m not very much for roughing it and the older I get the less I want to. My husband and I owned an RV for many years and he had this yearning to live in it and travel. Every bone in my body resisted to the thought of not having roots. After he passed, I sold it and was grateful not to have the work of keeping it up. Have a blessed day, my friend.

  1. I love women’s diaries from that period too and have a pile of them somewhere in my hoard. I think the only way I could do it is if I could take turns sitting and then walking on the shady side (if there was one). I’ve read more pioneers died from disease–especially cholera—than any Indian doings, but of course we were raised with movies of Indian raids all the time.

    I think I already told you one summer we went out west the Lewis and Clark Trail and came home the Oregon Trail in reverse. Everyone should do the Oregon Trail IMO even in a car. So much to see and imagine. Awesome.

    • Good morning, Dearest Eliza…….I loved that women kept diaries, not only of trials of moving West but they’ve always kept them during wars and hard times. Nothing is more powerful than reading their own words and the emotion that seeps through really grips you. Yes, you told me about that amazing trip down the Lewis and Clark Trail. That had to be so amazing. I’d love to do that one day. My mother’s maiden name was Clark and we used to joke that William Clark was our ancestor. I have no proof of that but my great grandfather was William Jackson Clark and I haven’t been able to get further back than him.

      I hope you’re looking forward to putting winter behind you and moving into Spring. Keep looking forward, dear friend, even when it taxes your body. Love you dearly.

  2. I have so much respect toward these men and women . You are so right Linda that they were hardy souls.I like to think I would have made it but honestly I may have lasted till the first scary hardship 🙂 Or until my back went out. But God Bless these determined and hopeful souls, they went after what they wanted and those that made it, I hope they achieved their dreams.

    • Good morning, Carol……I’m glad you enjoyed my post and maybe reading about these people’s hardships provides strength for the small trials we face every day. A lot of those settlers didn’t make it, dying along the trail, turning back, or never seeing the payoff when they finally reached the end and that’s sad. I sure wouldn’t have wanted to be pregnant with my 8th child and going through this. My Lord! That woman had guts on top of guts. Talk about a strong will. Have a blessed day and keep smiling.

  3. Linda- Wow those are some powerful and sobering testimonies. I too would like to think I’d soldier on, but who knows. I guess after you get just so far on the journey, the need and desire to reach your destination would keep driving a person. I often think about those who traveled coming across Kansas and it’s wide open ranges with very few trees and wondered how they did it.
    I also wonder what went through their minds as they wandered such vastness and then one day come upon a wall of mountains they then had to cross.
    We do owe them everything. They were brave to set out to settle & discover the west not knowing what lie ahead.
    Thanks for sharing those diary passages. Love you and I hope todays a great day for you.

    • Good morning, Miss Tonya……I’m happy you enjoyed the post for a second time since you read it on the personal blog I used to have. We have many tests of the body, mind, and spirit in these modern times but I seriously doubt it’s anything like what these people faced. Yes, Kansas would’ve given them pause. No trees, nothing but endless prairie. Must’ve been very odd indeed for Easterners. For fuel to cook with they used to twist grass into tight bundles. It burned too fast but it was better than nothing. The unknown is always frightening and I’m sure it was to them also.

      You have a blessed day and keep smiling. I love you dearly.

  4. I would like to think I had that kinda of stamina those ladies did in my younger years. But now I know I wouldn’t have lasted. They were made from a stronger stock back then than we are today I believe

    • Good morning, Glenda……Yes, I believe they were. They weren’t as spoiled as we are. It’s a crisis if my microwave goes out! Or heaven forbid I get too far from a doctor! 🙂 But those women stared death in the face, daring it to take them. Much love and big hugs, dear friend.

  5. Me as I am today wouldn’t make it. Back then, when you didn’t have the comforts of home, we know today didn’t know any better, I would have kept going. Sure glad that women kept dairies of there daily life.

    • Good morning, Veda…….I’m so grateful to those who kept a written account of those perilous times. Their words are powerful and drive home the obstacles they faced. Maybe you’re right in that they didn’t know exactly the strength of will they exhibited and only knew it as commonplace. Still, wealthy people took to the trail, giving up all the comforts they were accustomed to. Not sure how many of them made it, but some. Have a blessed day, dear friend.

  6. I would hope I had the strength to carry on but until you are really living it there is no way to tell. Incredibly strong woman . Mentally and physically .

    • Good morning, Renee…..I agree. Often we don’t know the enormous strength we have until we’re tested–both mentally and physically. My heart goes out to these women who really never had a choice and just did as their husbands wanted. Must’ve been even more challenging if you heart wasn’t in it. Have a blessed day and keep smiling.

  7. I love reading the old diaries of times we can only imagine. I can’t say I would of been a strong person and went The whole route but then
    You really didn’t have a lot of choices back then. Thank you Linda for sharing this blog, makes you appreciate all we have today that’s for sure!!

    • Good morning, Rose Ann……..I have a greater appreciation for my home and everything that makes life easier. I’m sure those people were grateful to see each sunrise. Have a blessed day and big hugs!

  8. I do enjoy camping but to endure what they did on a daily basis till they got to there destination. I don’t think I could of.

    • Good morning, Kim……I’m good at the short term and can endure anything, but long drawn-out trials of endurance are too taxing on the body, mind, and spirit. I probably would’ve plunked myself down at a town along the way and stayed there. 🙂 Some did and changed the course of their lives. Have a blessed day! Thanks for coming.

  9. It is a hard trip. They did not have the medicine to treat illnesses. Giving birth barely stopped them. I admire them. I would have kept going.

    • Good morning, Debra…..I think you are a very hardy soul, just like these women. Yeah, I think you would’ve made it, despite the rigors. My hat is off to you. Have a blessed day.

    • Good morning, Janine……It’s fun to think about what we would’ve done but I’m so glad I don’t have to prove it. 🙂 Have a blessed day, sweet lady.

  10. What a sobering read Linda. As in this life, with my husband by my side, I would like to think the journey possible. However, their plights were unlike any adventures I’ve taken. The depth of determination was unwavering and their suffering to attain their dreams was powerful. Thank you for this reflection on history and how our families fought for a better life. I appreciate reading about their sojourns. Unbelievable courage.

    • Good morning, Kathy……I’m happy to see you and glad you enjoyed my post. I agree that the suffering they faced is a powerful message. Some overcame and some succumbed. This Western migration in our history was unlike any other. Except with maybe the pilgrims who left their countries to settle in a strange and terrifying land. True courage and unwavering spirit. Have a blessed day! I’m enjoying much needed rain, so thankful to have it. Love and hugs!

  11. Hard and long trip. I would like to think i had it in me to keep going. A big thankyou to them all.

    • Good morning, Yvonne……..Hard and long…yes, that describes it perfectly. Glad you enjoyed my post. Have a blessed day, my friend, and be grateful for what God has given us. Love you.

  12. What a great post! I would hope if I started a journey that I would finish it but I don’t know.

    • Good morning, Melanie……Thanks for coming. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. It’s fun to speculate what we would’ve done. Glad it’s only speculation! I wouldn’t have made it without my microwave, toilet, shower. Have a blessed day filled with love!

  13. I think it would have been a rough life for me and not sure I would have made it. I think I would have turned back myself. I know I would have if I was with child. That would have been just to much for me.

    • Good morning, Quilt Lady…….I’m happy to see you and hope you’re doing better. I agree about the special hardships of being pregnant that would’ve added to the daily rigors. Very scary. I suppose you just didn’t let yourself think about it and trusted that everything would work out. Have a blessed day. Love and hugs!

  14. Good morning! Great blog! I love seeing these journal entries. I too would love to think I would soldier on. There were many tough terrains along the way and by the time I’d have arrived at the mountain ranges, exhausted, hurting, ill I might have found land to claim in that vicinity. Keeping in mind it probably wouldn’t be my decision though. I just can’t begin to imagine traveling 25 miles a day on a good day. Many felt they couldn’t return east because they have given up their homes and jobs if they had one. Not to mention their pride wouldn’t allow them to return home as failures!

    • Good morning, Miss Stephanie……I’m so glad to see you. You mentioned something I hadn’t even considered–pride. Yes, there was that. No one would’ve wanted to be branded a failure and after selling their homes, they wouldn’t have had anything to go back to as well. So many lives were altered and took strange, different courses. The magnitude boggles my mind. Have a blessed day and keep smiling. Love you, warrior buddy.

    • Good morning, Tonya Cherry……I’m happy you stopped by to join the conversation. I’m heartened that most everyone would’ve tried to keep going. Maybe we’re not as soft as we think and have some of that pioneer spirit. Blessings and love!

    • Good morning, Estella……..Thanks for coming. I deeply admire people who have a dream and follow it. Sometimes we’re driven by a desire so powerful we endure anything. Have a blessed and wonderful day. Love and hugs!

  15. Oh my gosh, Linda. What a fascinating blog. I’ve never read true, at the time accounts of the folks coming west. This is so interesting and gave me so much insight into the issues they faced…lots more than I already had. Today, no I’d gone back because I’m such a wimp, but I those days once the pioneers set out, I’m sure they would stay on task for a better life for themselves and their families. Thanks for sharing such an interesting diary entries.

    • Hi Phyliss…..We’ve all had to be brave and reach down deep inside for the strength to face trials but this would’ve drained a person’s spirit. Like I said earlier, being tested short term I can handle but not this daily grind of months and months. I think it would’ve been too hard for me. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Love you, Filly sister!

  16. wow, fascinating!!!! if it were me, and i was with child. I don’t think I would of made it, I would of been left behind, or left at the watering hole, for talking and complaining too much. lol or asking too many questions.

    • Hi Elaine…….You made me laugh. But it probably would’ve been true for a good many of us. 🙂 Another thing I didn’t mention…anytime a person on the wagon train came down with a deadly disease, they kicked them off and left them alone to die because of the fear that it would’ve killed everyone on the train. I can’t imagine how horrible that would be. Love and hugs, dear lady!

  17. This is so cool. Thank you for sharing this little bit. This is one thing I love reading about westerns. Their struggles, joys, inspirations and their faith in God. I would like to think that I would have what it takes to be a pioneer. But I don’t know for sure. I would sure give it my best. Only with Jesus by my side would I make it in any fashion.

    • Hi Lori……I love history and that I can put it into my stories is why I love writing westerns. I want to keep history alive for as long as I can. We need to remember where we came from to appreciate where we are. Love and hugs!

  18. I have a lot of pioneer women in my ancestry and I’m very proud of them! I love reading their diaries. They were amazing women. I just couldn’t do it and I’m glad I live now! They have inspired me in many ways as I’ve grown up though so I’m glad I have their example!

    • Hi Valri…….I’m very grateful to these women who wrote what life was like. You can’t beat first-hand accounts. I wish my ancestors had kept a record but sadly they didn’t. You don’t know how lucky you are. Blessings and love!

  19. These are really the unsung heroes. I can’t even imagine the hardship and the courage it took to keep on. I would not only have turned back, I doubt I would have had the courage to start.

    • Hi Sally…….They certainly are. Historians write about the large heroes and their accomplishments but really it’s thousands of these men and women who made this country what it is, the people who didn’t look for fame or glory, just doing what had to be endured to reach a better life. I think you and I would’ve been the ones waving them off. LOL Have a blessed and wonderful day.

  20. What great insight into the plight of being a woman on the trial to what they could only hope would be a better life.

    • Hi Debra…….Great to see you. I’m glad you enjoyed my post and found it as interesting as I did. Those women sure had it hard. Have a blessed day and big hugs.

    • Hi Colleen…….You and I probably would’ve been in the same boat and waving them off. But I’m sure happy that someone had the guts because I can’t imagine the U.S. being so small. 🙂 Have a blessed day, my dear.

    • Hi Marcia……Thanks for coming. I’m happy you liked my post. Maybe one day I’ll write a series about the pioneers on the wagon trains. These true accounts whet my imagination. Blessings and hugs!

  21. Thanks for sharing. I enjoy reading diaries. I know people of all ages went because whole families did, but for me, I would have to be much younger and stronger than I am now. With my fibromyalgia, it takes me a good couple of hours to get going each morning and then I’m tired again in another few hours. Just thinking about it exhausts me!

    • Good morning, Linda……I’m glad you enjoyed my post. It’s fun to think about what that must’ve been like but I’m sure happy that I don’t have to do it. 🙂 Have a wonderful day!

  22. I love the diaries! I think I would be a hard person to get talked into going West but once I was on the journey, I would have stuck with it–as long as I had my husband by my side.

    • Good morning, Carrie……You’d definitely need someone to go with you. Although plenty of women went by themselves. That must’ve been very challenging. Have a blessed day!

  23. It’s hard to say. Would one have a life to go back to? Depending on one’s family, the generations of living in America were only a few, crossing in a wagon might not seem as bad as the ancestors’ crossing the Atlantic. So many factors.

    I remember reading some diaries like this in my Women’s Studies classes.

    • Good morning, Denise……You’re right, there were a lot of factors to consider in making such a decision. These diaries are priceless. A first-hand account is very powerful and you get a sense of the women’s uncertainty and fear, especially about diseases that killed so many. Have a blessed day!

  24. Linda, thank you for this wonderful post! I would like to think I had what it took to survive in that era.

    • Good morning, Caryl……….Thank you for coming. I’m happy you found my post interesting. It was very hard to pick out the entries from the hundreds but I wanted to show a broad swath of problems they faced. Have a blessed day!

  25. I loved, loved this post! I’m going to have to get that book. The glimpse into the hardships couldn’t be more authentic than this. Seven little ones and then giving birth to an eighth? Yi-yi-yi!

    Would I continue on? Dang. Hard question. I guess if I knew I was past the half-way point, I’d probably stick it out. But with a baby in my arms? Maybe if I loved my husband enough and HE HELPED ME!!!

    Bravo, Linda.

    • Good morning, Pam……I’m glad you liked reading these women’s thoughts. They certainly put things in perspective. It was really hard to select just a few from the many entries. I found it very interesting about the man who traveled with train and had all his belongings in a wheelbarrow. Good heavens!

      Yeah, it would’ve paid to have a husband worth his salt! I can’t imagine even then undertaking such a trip and not knowing what awaited…….

      Much love, Filly sister. Have a blessed day!

  26. I loved your post. Real life diaries are so fascinating. I’d like to think I’d make it, but my idea of roughing it is no room service.

    • Good morning, Alisa……..I’m so glad you came over to read about these amazing women! They truly were extraordinary. I tell you–I would need my microwave, toilet, bed, car, doctor! Have a blessed day, my friend!

  27. IMaybe if I was not used to all the luxuries we have in this time like in door plumbing and cars I could do it, But I really do like in door plumbing and cars so I am happy where I am. But those families were amazing!

  28. Linda, this is fascinating, but diaries have become one of the greatest sources for historical record, even long before the old west. One thing about diaries, you knew that much of it was true as it was unnecessary to tell tales in your own diary. I wish I could have the joy and privilege of actually getting to read some of them one day. Thank you for sharing.

    • Good morning, Cricket……I agree about diaries. Women have always seen the need to write down their thoughts and record feats of courage. Many wrote them during the Civil War and those are fascinating reading also. A first-hand account of anything is worth more than any dry history book. Amazon has a lot of diaries written by women on the covered wagons. Love you, lady. Have a blessed day!

  29. Thank you so much for sharing the diary excerpts with us. Most of us can not even imagine being in these women’s position. In my youth, I could have seriously considered being one of these women. A much older body makes me realize there is no way today. Driving cross country this summer, I kept thinking of those who did so in covered wagons. Making only 15 to 25 or 30 miles a day would make it seem like you were making no progress over the great expanse of prairie. One thing that stands out is the help the Indians gave the settlers. Once again, their generosity was repaid with aggression and loss of their homes and freedom.
    Yesterday I picked up several books about the early West at thrift stores. I can’t wait to read them. One is “Cynthia Ann Parker: The Life and the Legend,” the mother of Quanah Parker.

    • Good morning, Patricia…….Absolutely! I can’t imagine doing this myself but you certainly would have. You’ve traveled the world helping your fellow man. At times those covered wagons could only make ten miles a day. How disheartening to stand and the end of the day and see the campground you left that morning. The fact that the Indians helped the settlers many times stood out to me too. Hollywood made them bloodthirsty. What a shame. You’ll like reading about Cynthia Ann Parker. I grew up learning about her and the area where her tribe made their home isn’t far from me. I hope the sun is shining where you are. It feels mighty good. Blessings and love!

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