Best of Covered Wagon Women

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Collected in Best of Covered Wagon Women are eight mid-19th century accounts of the Western overland journey. These journals and several letters describe the experiences of nine women relocating from America’s East and Midwest – what these women refer to as “the states” – to the Oregon and California territories. This astounding migration, represented by these accounts over its more than twenty-year span from 1841 to 1869, is estimated to have included half a million people. So many that “the Indians conjectured that since so many white people had crossed this large region, the lands east of the Mississippi river must be all but abandoned” (p. 10, Introduction).
The common concerns expressed by the lady diarists were water, wood or other fuel, and grass for their livestock. They feelingly describe the heartache of parting from relatives in the East, the loss of family during the journey, and the general uncertainty of their undertaking. Though the women had a far different expectation of comfort than we do today – several were pregnant during the journey and never remarked upon it – yet they admired the spectacular landscape through which they traveled and we feel akin to them in their pleasure; “husband brought me a large bunch of flowers, which he said was growing close to the snow” (p. 211, Amelia Knight).

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