Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Westward, HO!

I’ve always been fascinated by the brave, intrepid souls who decided to traverse across the country to California in the period of American history we now call the “Westward Expansion.” Having just made that trip (albeit in what would be considered unbelievable comfort and ease by those early travelers) to California for the Collie Nationals, I’m even more amazed at how much perseverance those emigrants possessed. Driving along Interstate 80 to the summit of Donner Pass, it just wasn’t the snow that gave me chills. People perished and souls were lost. I read somewhere that if all those who perished attempting to traverse the trail from Missouri to California or Oregon were placed along those trails, there would be a grave every one thousand feet. (And as of this writing, when I checked to see just how much snow has fallen on Donner Pass this winter, it's STILL snowing at Donner and Truckee.) 
Memorial to the Donner Party at Donner Pass


And, that journey got me to thinking about what one might need to make that trip. So, I went to my trusty, handy-dandy reprint of The Prairie Traveler by Captain Randolph Marcy. This book was THE handbook for American pioneers.


The list of provisions makes my head spin and I just can’t wrap my head around storing one hundred pounds of bacon packed with bran and sewn into heavy canvas sacks and boxed up and stored in the bottom of the wagon to keep it cool. I’m just envisioning one hundred pounds of rancid bacon and bran…

 The list of clothing for one man for a three month long journey is as follows:
2 red or blue flannel overshirts, open in the front with buttons
2 woolen undershirts
2 pairs of thick cotton drawers
4 pair of woolen socks
2 pair of cotton socks
4 colored silk handkerchiefs (I’m guessing which color isn’t that important, unlike the overshirt which specified they should be red or blue)
2 pair stout shoes
1 pair of boots
1 pair of walking shoes
 3 towels
1 gutta percha poncho (I assume that is a water proof poncho)
1 broad-brimmed hat of soft felt
1 comb and brush
2 tooth-brushes
1 pound of Castile soap
3 pounds of bar soap to wash clothes with
1 belt knife and small whetstone
Stout linen thread, large needles, a bit of beeswax, a few buttons, paper of pins and a thimble—all contained in a small bag
1 coat
1 overcoat
1 rifle
1 revolver

Oddly enough, there is no mention of ammunition for said rifle and revolver.

It was enough of a trek cross country with eight collies and three people in my van. I cannot imagine making that journey to California on foot.



1 comment:

Robyn Echols said...

Great post, Lynda. After five years of drought, California has finally had a nice wet year with lots of snow in the mountains. We just had another system go through this past weekend that dropped snow in the higher elevations.

As someone who has lived in California most of my life, we hardly have snow where I have lived. However, when family has made trips back east to visit family in the winter, although traveling I-80 in the Great Plains states can be dicey, we have always considered the biggest challenge getting across Donner Pass even though it is close to home. That is the stretch of highway we keep a weather watch on as we make plans. More than once I have spent the night in a motel in Truckee or Nevada because Donner Pass was snowed in.