Tuesday, May 27, 2014

On the road in 1850 . . .

I'm reading The Overland Journals of William and Charles Frush this week as background for my next book.

William Frush begins his journal with this cryptic entry dated May 15, 1850: "Left my family and home near Newark, Knox County, Missouri for California on one horse with the expectation of overtaking on route my brother with teem, John H. Frush."

The following entries are peppered with detailed road descriptions for those who might follow. Frush doesn't mention his brother again, but he continued west with a 40 pound pack, joining up with small groups, sometimes folks on horseback, sometimes wagon trains. He notes good meals, an occasional fight, Indians encountered, and graves spotted. Occasionally he sends letters home.

By December 14, he reaches Portland in Oregon Territory and settles there. Between the lines, I read great perseverance and admire his sheer stamina as well as his gift for understatement.

Frush consistently camps upstream from popular stopping places, perhaps because the water near popular camping spots was a source of dysentery and cholera -- two killers along the trail. 

On reaching the River Platte, After leaving Fort Laramie, conditions for those traveling in wagons worsened. Emigrants cut their wagons down or burned them. Grass was poor, and the trail ahead littered with dead stock and graves. Frush reports one man died of "the colera," leaving behind a wife and 7 children. What must it have been like for such a woman?

From the Missouri River to Oregon is roughly 2,000 miles. Frush made this journey in 8 months. 

The first Fort Laramie as it looked prior to 1840. Painting from memory by Alfred Jacob Miller
Source: Wikipedia

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