This year the U received a rather large donation of California History books that I have been cataloging over the last couple months, and the other day I came across one that wasn’t already In the OCLC system, meaning that it’s rather obscure.
It’s a book yes, but more of a self-published kind of book. Like let’s type something up with raw sketches and go down to Kinko’s or some small printing press to have it photocopied and bound with one of those annoying plastic spine things. I love this though. Today we have blogs, such as this one, and Kindle Direct Publishing where you just simply upload a book to the interwebs and it’s done and out there. Thirty years ago it took a little more work than that, but it didn’t stop people. Which goes to show you if you think that what you are putting out is important enough you will do it.
This particular “book” is called: An Authentic Wagon Trail Journal of 1853: From Indiana to California which is essentially the diary of William Richard Brown that was typed up (including grammatical and spelling errors for authenticity) and published in 1985 by his granddaughter Barbara Wills, who also signed the cover page WOOT!
The best thing on earth to do with these kinds of things is read them out loud with your partners at the ref desk in old tyme voices which I did a little bit yesterday, and ended up becoming the inspiration for this post. The entries are wonderfully short and to the point. I gathered some excerpts from my favorite passages:
March 28, 1853
…Towards evening we came in contact with four drunken Irishmen. They wanted to fight. We got out of our waggon’s and made them take water. We were met by Capt. Meek about six miles from the railroad city who had come out a horse back to meet us. We put up for the night at Ryneld’s Hotel, 3 miles from Indianapolis. Ham and eggs for supper. Weather cool and cloudy. Distance traveled 18 miles.
May 4, 1853
…Still raining hard, half soaked and our whiskey nearly out. Crossed the river without much trouble and encamped on its banks in company with 6 other wagons…
May 12, 1853
Left at 9 oc, traveled over more rolling prairie wagons behind and before us. Weather clear and warm. Had a fine dance after night. Made a distance of 14 miles.
May 29, 1853
It rained very hard all night and give us a complete ducking. We rose and it was still raining. Took a cold bite for breakfast…
And in the end, it really doesn’t say much about if he got to where he was going. So, it’s kind of anticlimactic. There is another random entry that was written on the back of the diary, assumedly after the fact:
We all look dirty and sun burnt and really feel ashamed of our appearances.
When dealing with History primary sources like diaries are so interesting to me. First of all the way they talk. The things they think are important. Obviously a good stock of whiskey was especially important to this waggoneer. He also talks a lot about suppers, mainly ham and eggs, or cakes of some sort. There is a lot of violin music and dancing after dark. Actually, despite the Indians and the lack of running water this whole thing doesn’t really sound so bad.
I think a lot about the Gold Rush, and western expansion in the United States when I do the cataloging because many of the books are about this time in our history. Could you imagine it? Tomorrow your best friend is like… Hey, there’s this whole other side of the country that we just found out about, and if we can get there slowly, with all our possessions and families in wagons then we can be rich by digging stuff out of the earth. But, I forgot to mention the road is barely charted, and there’s a bunch of indigenous people that may be friendly or murderous, and all sorts of terrain and livestock challenges. There is no cell service there, and no turning back once we start, you will have to sell your home and anything else you don’t need, but hey it will be one heck of a ride and maybe we will get rich. Are you in? These people were brave as hell and I salute them.
Another thing it also reminds me of is my favorite computer lab game in elementary school. Oregon Trail….
It was so realistic, it gave you and/or your family members some rough outcomes. I always broke a leg or ended up with dysentery or whatever.
Either way, throughout history we have relied on brave people, “trailblazers” and such to lead us into the next stage in humanity. It’s interesting to get a peek inside the heads of these people only to see that they liked whiskey, dancing, and food just as much as the rest of us. We may think we are so much more advanced than people from the past, but are we really? We are probably more similar than we think.
Brown, W. (1985). An Authentic Wagon Trail Journal: from Indiana to California. Mokelumne Hill, CA; Horseshoe Printing.