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National Expansion and Reform
Traveling on the Overland Trails, 1843-1860
California: A Trip Across the Plains [James Abbey]

James Abbey was a member of a traveling party that left New Albany, Indiana, for California in 1850. He kept a day-by-day journal of his overland journey. Abbey provides a wealth of information about what it was like to travel overland by wagon in 1850. What are his most surprising observations from your point of view?

View the Book Navigator for California: A Trip Across the Plains from California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives, 1849-1900. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.

Saturday, April 27.--Cold nights and hot days. Cooked our breakfast with peagrass and ready for a start by six o'clock. The morning was very cold with a strong head wind. At eight o'clock we passed eight or ten graves of last year's emigrants. At twelve we stopped for dinner, and while the boys were eating their cold snack, I started out on the prairie a-snaking, and killed ten rattlesnakes, one with ten rattles on him. At six o'clock we encamped for the night on the bank of a creek, with plenty of wood and water, but grass scarce. Traveled this day fifteen miles.

Wednesday, May 1.--A bright clear morning, but wind blowing like a young hurricane, and cold as the month of February. We left camp this morning at five o'clock in company with Rowley, Richey, Gilmore, Cline, Armstrong, and Stevenson from Louisville, and three teams from Cincinnati, all in good health. At twelve o'clock we stopped to water our cattle. At five we arrived at a stream called Little Blue river; while here a young man from Ohio died of the measles.--Here is the first place that we have seen anything look green since we left home, sweet home, and that was willows which grew out of the banks of the river; as for grass, there is none of any length for cattle. Here we camped all night, having traveled fifteen miles.

Saturday, May 4.--A bright, spring-like day, the second of the kind since we left the Bluffs. We met two mule teams from Fort Laramie, who report no grass this side of the Platte, and the emigrants ahead of us had set fire to all of last year's growth. While grazing our stock at noon, I counted two hundred horse teams, eighty mule teams, and sixty ox teams pass by here.--At five o'clock we arrived at a creek where there was wood and water and some little grass; here we stopped for the night, having traveled nineteen miles over an excellent road.

View Part 2 of California: A Trip Across the Plains (Indian Territory, April 26-May 12, 1850)

Tuesday, May 14 th .--Cooked our breakfast this morning with grass and was ready to start by six o'clock. At eight o'clock met a mule team from Fort Laramie with the mail, bound for Fort Leavenworth. They report upwards of three thousand wagons ahead of us. We nooned to-day on the banks of the Platte. . . . About the middle of the afternoon we met six ox teams from Scott's Bluffs. They had been out on a trading expedition since August last, and were just on their return to the States. At four o'clock we stopped and pitched our tents for the night on the bank of the Platte. Our route for the entire day has been up the valley of the Platte, frequently near its banks. The river here still maintains its expansive breadth, presenting itself four miles wide, but very shallow. In several places I saw men fording it, the water not being more than eighteen inches deep. The bed of the river is composed of quicksand and is constantly changing by the action of the current. The banks of the Platte are low, not being more than five feet above the present stage of water. Traveled to-day fourteen miles.

Thursday, May 16.--We started this morning at six o'clock from a place called Plum Creek. Traveled a couple of miles and met nineteen ox teams, thirty-three days out from Fort Laramie, loaded with buffalo robes and furs for the American Fur Company. At nine o'clock we saw some buffaloes and antelopes at a distance, and at eleven, finding good grass, we stopped to graze our cattle for a couple of hours. We find many articles strewed along the road, such as log chains, ox-yokes, horse-collars, cooking stoves, [et]c., which the emigrants have been compelled to throw away to lighten their wagons. . . .

View Part 3 of California: A Trip Across the Plains (Fort Laramie, May 13-June1, 1850)

Saturday, June 15.--Cold, with a violent wind blowing from the snowy mountains, rendering the atmosphere raw and uncomfortable. We all rose shivering from our slumbers this morning. We found ice to the thickness of half an inch in our water buckets. Ready for a start by six o'clock, and after traveling six miles, came to Sweet Water, which we forded and traveled up its valley till eleven o'clock, where, finding good grass, we stopped. At one we were again on our way, still descending the slope of the mountains, the air as cold as in the depth of winter at home. At six we halted, found good grass, and grazed our cattle. We are now in about two miles of the summit of the dividing ridge between the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It being a beautiful night, we concluded to go through the pass by moonlight. At nine o'clock we arrived at the Pacific Springs, traveled through the pass for an hour over a good road, and encamped for the night at the Springs, having made to-day nineteen miles.

Monday, June 17.--Shoved out this morning at five o'clock, amid a violent snow storm, traveled on till ten o'clock, when we reached the forks of the two roads--the one to the right taking you to Sublette's Cut-off or Fort Hall, and that to the left to the Great Salt Lake. Here we parted with our old friend Alexander O'Neil, he taking the Cut-off and we the Salt Lake route. I was personally in favor of the former route, but a majority of our company deciding otherwise, we struck off on the Salt Lake road. From the appearance of the two roads, I should suppose that nine-tenths of the wagons had taken the Cut-off. At eleven o'clock we turned our cattle out to graze about two miles from the junction of the two roads, in company with Rowley, Shindler, and McBride. At five o'clock we encamped for the night four miles from Little Sandy river. We found no grass for our cattle, but turned them out to rest. Traveled to-day over a good, though somewhat sandy road, twenty-one miles.

Saturday, June 22.--We traveled sixteen miles to-day under a broiling sun and over a dusty road, without finding a drop of water for our cattle. At eleven o'clock we arrived at Fort Ridger [probably Bridger is meant], where we found several streams of pure cold water, which was quite refreshing to ourselves and cattle. Fort Ridger is a small trading post, with six or seven log cabins, bearing a faint resemblance to houses. It lies in a beautiful valley, which produces the finest of grass and in great abundance. Here we halted for three hours, ourselves requiring rest and our cattle food, having traveled over a desert wild for the last six hours, with scarcely a green shrub to relieve the dreariness of the prospect. On resuming our journey, our route lay along the base of a mountain, the top of which is covered with snow and the foot with the most beautiful verdure. We traveled to-day twenty-two miles.

View Part 4 of California: A Trip Across the Plains (Weaversville, Calif., June 1-September 11, 1850)
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