The chief figure of the American West, the figure of the ages, is not the long-haired, fringed-legging man riding a raw-boned pony, but the gaunt and sad-faced woman sitting on the front seat of the wagon, following her lord where he might lead her, her face hidden in the same ragged sunbonnet which had crossed the Appalachians and Missouri long before. That was America, my brethren! There was the seed of America's wealth. There was the great romance of America -- the woman in the sunbonnet; and not, after all, the hero with the rifle across his saddle horn. Who has written her story? Who has painted her picture?
Emerson Hough, The Passing of the Frontier.1
She has done it! The woman in the sunbonnet has told her own story. She has painted word pictures of the road she traveled with her family. The words were written right in the wagon on the way west. Sometimes it was in the form of a letter written to the folks back home and sent off from Fort Laramie or Fort Boise, or from the end of the trail in Oregon or California or Utah or some other western locale.
That is what this series is all about. It is a collection of contemporary diaries and letters describing the day by day events of the overland journey -- and an occasional odyssey back the other way.
With the publication of volume one of this series we have been able to lay our hands on well over one hundred of these poignant primary records, written____________________