Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, 1852 - Vol. 4

Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, 1852 - Vol. 4

Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, 1852 - Vol. 4

Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, 1852 - Vol. 4


The stories seem simple -- they left, they traveled, they settled -- yet the restless westering impulse of Americans created one of the most enduring figures in our frontier pantheon: the hardy pioneer persevering against all odds. Undeterred by storms, ruthless bandits, towering mountains, and raging epidemics, the women in these volumes suggest why the pioneer represented the highest ideals and aspirations of a young nation. In this concluding volume of the Covered Wagon Women series, we see the final animal-powered overland migrations that were even then yielding to railroad travel and, in a few short years, to the automobile. The diaries and letters resonate with the vigor and spirit that made possible the settling and community-building of the American West.


During the past few years the concept of "western trail" has become increasingly complicated. Scholars have pointed out that numerous trails led to the American West, including a variety of overland routes, the trek across Panama, roads heading north from Mexico, and the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. These not only brought Anglo-Americans and African Americans westward, but Mexicans northward, and Europeans and Asians to the West.

This volume represents one of the most common routes: the one motion pictures and television have drawn upon for thousands of stories. The women who traversed the Oregon Trail, and offer their accounts here, were stock characters as well. They were largely Anglo- American and had a modicum of education, which allowed them to record their observations and experiences for posterity.

Because these women lacked exposure to television, especially the nightly news, they had little knowledge of other migrants taking different trails to a similar destination. In twentieth-century terms, they suffered from a want of global and cultural awareness. But, in nineteenthcentury parlance, they had purpose.

For them, "the trail" was the Oregon Trail, invested with the demands, hardships, and adjustments they had to face to reach the far West. Despite the difficulties, thousands were willing to challenge the obstacles to finding new homes. In 1852, the number of migrants on the Oregon Trail increased notably over the previous year. The Missouri Republican of July 1, 1852, claimed that by May alone, 8,174 men, 1,286 women, and 1,776 children had departed for points west. The newspaper also commented that the migration included a marked increase in the number of women.

In the selections that follow, some of these women relate their reluctance to leave kin and friends behind, express their dread or curiosity about meeting their "first" Indian, wonder how they will survive striking climatic changes, and question their abilities to deal with natural and other disasters. They clearly anticipate the transformation of their known world.

Oregon Trail women were right to worry. Besides forsaking kin, friends, and others, they could expect to encounter peoples of vastly . . .

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