Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1849 - Vol. 1

By Kenneth L. Holmes | Go to book overview

The Commentaries of & Keturah Belknap

INTRODUCTION

No persons who told their story of the overland journey to Oregon used such an ingenious method as did Keturah Belknap Beginning with her marriage date, October 3, 1839 in Allen County, Ohio, she kept not a diary, but what she termed a "memorandum," in which she periodically recorded what had happened in the period since her last entry. Evidently later in life she added notes to the original and recorded other memories. It is even difficult, therefore, to separate out added material from her "memorandum." She records events in the past tense for several entries; then all of a sudden the present tense makes an appearance, such as, "Now we're skirting the timber on the DeMoines River and its tributaries." Then she reverts to the past tense again.

The question arises for the editor whether such a "memorandum" ought to be included in a volume of contemporary records such as diaries and letters. The answer is that the nub of her running commentary in her story is built so closely around the day-by-day or week-by-week records that they dominate and the "memorandum," therefore, has an immediacy which no reminiscence written years later can capture. This is especially true of the overland part of her record, which seems to have been written on the spot while in the wagon.

The early pages have to do with the life of the George Belknaps before they left for Oregon. She goes into minute detail about events in such a way as to paint a picture of day-to-day life in Van Buren County, Iowa, during the

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