Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Diaries of Harriet Dillabaugh

by Shanna Hatfield

The past few weeks, I've been working on the third book in my Baker City Brides series.  Set in the historic town of Baker City, Oregon, the series takes place in the early 1890s.

Baker City was one of the stops along the Oregon Trail in Eastern Oregon. It was also home to a big gold mining boom in the 1860s and again during the period of my stories.

I truly enjoy doing research to bring my characters and the setting in my stories to life. That's why I was excited to find "The Diaries of Harriet 'Hattie' Dillabaugh 1889-1940."  Hattie kept diaries of her life from her days in Wyoming Territory up to the home she made in Portland, Oregon before her death.

Hattie was born in 1856 in Philadelphia. She mentions four sisters, her mother, aunts, uncles and cousins in her diary as well as relatives of her husband. 

Daniel Dilllabaugh was born in Canada, lived in Michigan and fought in the Civil War. He was wounded, recovered, then captured by Confederate forces but managed to escape. He served in the U.S. Calvary in the West and was discharged in Salt Lake City in 1866. He and two of his brothers worked on the Transcontinental Railroad. During his lifetime, he also made two trips to Honduras, prospecting for gold.

In the late 1880s, the two of them met, although the where and how was not recorded. At the time, Dan was living in Miner's Delight, Wyoming Territory and it is thought that Hattie lived in Chicago. It's rather fun to imagine where the two of them might have been introduced... at church, the home of a mutual friend? Hmm... how might it have happened?

Hattie left Chicago in September 1888, and married Daniel in Wyoming Territory in October 1888. Hattie was 32 when she wed, had three children and one miscarriage. During her life, she sustained a few injuries, underwent three operations, and several teeth extracted, all of which she documents in her diaries.

Among the things she writes about in her diaries are watching Hailey's Comet, attending Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, seeing the Liberty Bell pass through town and going to the airport to wait for Charles Lindbergh to land.

The early years of her diaries offer entries that give a variety of detail. It seems about the time they moved to Baker City, her entries grew shorter, sometimes just a few words. What she wrote was simplistic, but offers an interesting view into the everyday life of a pioneer woman doing her best to make a life in the West.

February 20, 1890
"Today finds me feeling a little better, but not much. I am homesick to see my Dear husband, but how I do love him..." 

The sappy romantic in me thought this was so sweet. Hattie doesn't often write of her feelings, but it is evident she loves her husband very much.

She often writes of feeling poorly or ill. After they moved to Baker City, for months, her entries were about being ill and visiting the doctor. I began to wonder how or why she'd need to visit him so frequently.  Was the woman a hypochondriac? 

And then, Nov. 19, 1892 she wrote:
"Our little girl was born. In bed ten days."

Suddenly, all her illnesses and trips to the doctor made sense.

She often wrote about Dan being gone. It seemed he did a lot of prospecting for gold. Sometimes she wrote of him bringing home a nugget. Other times he went off to work for someone. She also wrote about Dan receiving a pension (from the Civil War).

What has given me great help and insight with my story, is her writing about picking blackberries and huckleberries, canning pears and peaches, and things they ordered or received as gifts in the mail.

She wrote about going to see the circus, which seemed to come through town once or twice a year. She wrote of the weather, when it once snowed in June and the winter that was warm like spring. 

Her journal entries include attending parades, celebrating Christmas, and funerals they attended.

The book was compiled by Colonel Jerry L. Ross. Hattie and Daniel were the brother and sister-in-law of Ross's great-great-great-grandfather Adam Dillabaugh.

As someone who is always on the lookout for ways to bring the past to life in my stories, I'm grateful Colonel Ross assembled Hattie's diaries into a book.

And I'm thankful for women like Hattie who shared the triumphs and trials of their lives in writing so the rest of us might learn from their experiences.

USA Today Bestselling Author Shanna Hatfield is convinced everyone deserves a happy ending and is out to make it happen, one story at a time. Her sweet historical and contemporary romances combine humor and heart-pumping moments with characters that seem incredibly real.
When she isn’t writing or indulging in chocolate (dark and decadent, please), Shanna hangs out with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller.
The author is a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, Romance Writers of America, Sweet Romance Reads, and Pioneer Hearts.
Find Shanna’s books at:
Shanna loves to hear from readers! Follow her online:
Make sure you sign up for her newsletter to get the latest on new releases and exclusive giveaways!


Zina Abbott said...

Interesting post. I don't know much about Oregon, only been there a few times, but it is such a pretty and inviting state. I know some of my ancestors lived in Baker for a few years, but beyond that, I learned more from your post than any writings left about them. Thanks for sharing.

Shanna Hatfield said...

Thanks, Zina! It's so fun to read through old diaries. What a great way to learn about the past. :) Thanks for stopping by today!