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National Expansion and Reform
Traveling on the Overland Trails, 1843-1860
Adventures of an Overland Journey to California [Alonzo Delano]

Alonzo Delano, born in New York in 1809, moved to the Midwest as a teenager. In 1849, he joined a local California Company and prepared to travel overland to California. He describes some of his experiences on the journey to California in the following excerpts from his book published in 1857. How do Delano's observations about the weather, care of livestock, pace of travel, and throwing items away during the crossing influence your thinking about what it was like to travel on the overland trails?

View the Book Navigator for Life on the Plains and Among the Diggings; Being Scenes and Adventures of an Overland Journey to California from California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives, 1849-1900. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.


MAY 19.

The country resembled that of the previous day, with no water except occasionally in sloughs; and as we looked over the broad expanse of prairie, till earth and sky seemed to blend, we could not repress a feeling of loneliness. . . .

. . . Distance to-day, sixteen miles. View the entire entry for May 19.

MAY 20.

Our road, like that of yesterday, was over broad table-land, and we were able to keep a direct south-south-west course. But where the dickens was the St. Joseph road? Where were we?--and where had we been? We had now been out nineteen days upon the wilderness. Our object in taking this new route had been to save time, and of getting in advance of other trains; and the question naturally arose, Had we succeeded? Had we gained anything by our erratic course? . . . Anxiously we drove on, with "hope deferred," wishing that the next knoll would bring the long wished for object to our vision. This feeling was shared by all, when, about four o'clock, our captain, who had rode ahead four or five miles, was seen riding towards us at full speed, swinging his hat joyfully, when a shout was raised, "The road is found; the road is found!". . .

. . . From the latter place [St. Joseph, Missouri] we had been actually traveling twenty-four days, nineteen of which were upon the prairie, to reach this point; while the trains that had come by the road, direct, had come through without difficulty in eleven days. This was gaining time and getting ahead with a vengeance! . . . Distance sixteen miles. View the entire entry for May 20.

MAY 30.

Morning dawned gloomily enough. It seemed as if a water spout was discharging its floods upon us. Our rain storms at home were only gentle showers compared with this. The wind blew a hurricane . . . In this dreadful storm hundreds of cattle were lost, and some trains were almost ruined; some lost half, while others had only one or two yoke left; and for several days after, we met many persons who were searching for their cattle, unable to proceed. No situation can be more deplorable than that of being left upon a broad prairie, hundreds of miles from aid, without the means of locomotion. We found families, with women and helpless children, in this sad condition, and yet we were without means to give them relief. . . . It continued to rain without cessation through the day, and we turned into our damp beds with a feeling of cheerlessness, though not dispirited. Distance, nothing. View the entire entry for May 30.

MAY 31.

. . .We were pained to see that many cattle were becoming lame, and that many showed evidences of being hard driven. In the great desire to get ahead, and the foolish rivalry of passing other trains, no rest was given to the cattle. Men placed themselves in jeopardy of becoming helpless, by imprudence, even at this early stage of the journey, where no human aid could be rendered; and were I to make the trip again, I would make it a point to stop every seventh day, where it was practicable, if from no scruples of conscience, certainly from dictates of humanity; and I do not hesitate to declare, that by doing so there would be a saving of time in the end, for both man and beast would more than make up the time so lost, by renewed vigor from rest. We daily saw many cattle giving out from want of rest, and imprudence in driving them beyond their strength, and when they reached the barren plains beyond the Rocky Mountains, many were unable to drag the wagons, even after the loads had been reduced, by throwing away all but barely enough provisions to sustain life to the end of the journey. Distance, fourteen miles. View the entire entry for May 31.

JUNE 3.

We took advantage of our leisure in airing our clothes and provisions, and in making all necessary repairs. Another important matter occupied the consideration, not only of our own train, but of many companies encamped near us. Loading our wagons too heavily with cumbrous and weighty articles, and with unnecessary supplies of provisions, had been a general fault, and the cattle began to exhibit signs of fatigue. We resolved, therefore, to part with everything which was not absolutely necessary, and to shorten the dimension of our wagons so that they would run easier. To sell superfluous articles was quite impossible, though I was fortunate enough to find a market for fifty pounds of coffee. Every emigrant was abundantly supplied, and we were compelled to throw away a quantity of iron, steel, trunks, valises, old clothes, and boots, of little value; and I may observe here that we subsequently found the road lined with cast-off articles, piles of bacon, flour, wagons, groceries, clothing, and various other articles, which had been left, and the waste and destruction of property was enormous. In this the selfish nature of man was plainly exhibited. In many instances the property thus left was rendered useless. We afterwards found sugar on which turpentine had been poured, flour in which salt and dirt had been thrown, and wagons broken to pieces, or partially burned, clothes torn to pieces, so that they could not be worn, and a wanton waste made of valuable property, simply because the owners could not use it themselves, and were determined that nobody else should. There were occasionally honorable exceptions. The wagons were left unharmed by the road side; the bacon, flour, and sugar were nicely heaped up, with a card, directed to any one who stood in need, to use freely in welcome. . . .

. . . Distance, nothing. View the entire entry for June 3 (combined with June 2nd; scroll down).

JUNE 12.

. . . Fort Laramie is simply a trading post, standing about a mile above the ford, and is a square enclosure of adobe walls, one side of which forms the walls of the buildings. The entrance into the court is through a gate of sufficient strength to resist the Indians, but would be of little account if besieged by a regular army. Its neat, white-washed walls presented a welcome sight to us, after being so long from anything like a civilized building, and the motly crowd of emigrants, with their array of wagons, cattle, horses, and mules, gave a pleasant appearance of life and animation. . . .

Around the fort were many wagons, which had been sold or abandoned by emigrants. A strong, heavy wagon could be bought for from five to fifteen dollars. In ordinary seasons the company were able to keep some small supplies for emigrants, but such was the rush now, that scarcely anything could be obtained, even at the most exorbitant prices. . . .

. . . Drive, seventeen miles. View the entire entry for June 12.
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View the Book Navigator for Life on the Plains and Among the Diggings; Being Scenes and Adventures of an Overland Journey to California from California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives, 1849-1900. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.