The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Advanced Placement United States History Study Guide

Period 5: 1844-1877

On the emigrant trail, 1862

Samuel Russell to his mother and sisters, June 10, 1862 (GLC05493.01)Samuel Russell, his mother, and his sisters emigrated to the Mormon settlement at Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1861. The next spring, Russell joined a “down-and-back” wagon train to escort new pioneers to the settlement. These caravans provided wagons, oxen, and supplies to carry needy church members to Utah. It was a six-month round-trip for the wagon crews.

In this letter dated June 10, 1862, Russell described some of the hazards he and his crew had encountered on their journey from Salt Lake City, in just the first few days of the journey:

’Tis 3 weeks last friday since we left the city. all day Saturday we lay in emigration & on Sunday ascended the little mountain & began our mud & water march which held good untill we had crossed Hams fork  The road from the little mountain by way of parleys park – to the weber & till we got out of Echo was one of the roads you seldom read about  in that time we had 13 turnovers  30 or 40 times to unload stuck wagons, after hitching on oxen and breaking by chains ’till we found it would not pay, One individual wagon has been to unload 11 different times

The challenges faced by Russell and his wagon company were experienced by most emigrants heading west prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

Excerpt

We began to meet emigrants from the states on Hams fork & have met them daily ever since. Mostly Horse & mule trains some of the Largest Horses Mares & Mules I ever saw & I expect they have all been jayhawked from all reports there is a heavy emigration ahead of us & after a while we hardly expect to find room to correl. ’Tis 3 weeks last friday since we left the city. all day Saturday we lay in emigration & on Sunday ascended the little mountain & began our mud & water march which held good untill we had crossed Hams fork The road from the little mountain by way of parleys park – to the weber & till we got out of Echo was one of the roads you seldom read about in that time we had 13 turnovers  30 or 40 times to unload stuck wagons, after hitching on oxen and breaking by chains ’till we found it would not pay, One individual wagon has been to unload 11 different times we crossed the weber without any trouble but Echo made up for it, on our first entrance we had to put the wagons all over a bridge by hand; then three of the upsets was in her two of which wagons were hidden almost entirely from our view beneath her waters which was then no longer a creek but a river one gun one boot 2 shoes some $10 money and several pieces of clothing were lost, the driver of one of the wagons went down under it but Luckily for him the water was deep, he was missing sometime but at length poked his head up through a hole large enough for a prairie dog between the Oxen one of which was strugling in the water the other hanging on the Bridge.

A full transcript is available.

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