A Pioneer Story: Pioneer Days, Part 5: Across the Plains of Nebraska to Denver

By J. S. Fillmore (Library of Congress – Maps Division) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Before leaving Plattsmouth, the little caravan experienced  a terrific storm of wind and hail and rain.  The wind felt as if it might overturn the wagons and the hail pelted them as they gripped the flapping ends of the wagon covers.  The next morning they finished preparations for the start of their long journey across the plains.  “And so, with visions of a bleak, sandy desert wherein grew no tree or blade of grass, we started forth…So on we go, following the Platte River, along whose banks we find, greatly to our surprise, abundant grass for the stock, and this was the desert of which we had read so much!”

After a week or ten days of monotonous travel the small group was joined by a party of 6 young Germans from Minnesota whose carts were quite different from the wagons of the Booth party and which Laura described.  She also noted being passed by groups with swifter teams going in the same direction, and then by other groups heading back the way they had come (some without even setting foot in the mining regions of the mountains).

Signs of Indians began to be sighted, the remains of campfires and pieces of broken equipment left behind.  These were discovered to be Potawatomies, a quiet and peaceful tribe, who were very interested in the group’s belongings and the Booth baby (Nettie).  Laura noted that they rather enjoyed the novelty of meeting the Indians as a way to break up the monotony of travel, except for one problem.  One of the Booth teams of oxen was young and very aware of the approach of any Indians (Laura thought because of their sense of smell but it isn’t clear why she thought this).  This young team took more and more dislike to the Indians and “persisted in plunging and tearing around at such a rate as to make it anything but pleasant to ride behind them.”  Blindfolding the animals was not found to help and the group had to pass right by “not stopping to parlay with these interesting specimens of humanity.”

Next, Laura remembered in the midst of this lonely terrain where they only had themselves and occasionally a small group of Indians, one day they saw a rider coming from afar.  This lone rider was galloping as fast as his horse could go.  The flap, flap of his saddle bags proclaims this the Pony Express” but to be sure one of the group cried out the question.  And “as he rushes by without halting a moment the answer comes back, ‘Pony Express—six days and a half from San Francisco.’”  The slow Booth caravan was said to be still four weeks from the halfway point to San Francisco when they encountered this rider.  The Pony Express had recently been established to carry mail, messages, and newspapers from the West Coast to the East (early 1860).  Soon afterward Laura notes they came to the location of Ft. Kearney, an old trading post and landmark on the road they were following (marked on the map above).

As the group moved on from this point they again had a stream of travelers passing them, in both directions.  By this time, they were about a week away from Julesburg, another landmark on the road.  They hoped to reach it by the Fourth of July.  Another brief diversion from the monotonous travel was described as the group of young men from Minnesota began to engage in a family quarrel.  They got to the point that each wanted to dissolve the partnership they traveled in and go their own ways.  This was not feasible however based on the number of carts and teams they had: there was no way of dividing the animals and if one group bought the other out there would be a party then stranded hundreds of miles from their destination.  Finally some of the older men in the caravan were called on to arbitrate and the final solution was to go on as they had until they reached the end of the trip.

The group reached Juleburg the evening before the Fourth of July.  It was decided to celebrate the Fourth with a gun salute, having no fireworks with them and no place to acquire any.  They would then travel only a short way and rest the remainder of the day.  Taking a day of rest was apparently a topic of discussion among the travelers, some of whom wanted to always press on but the majority of the group appreciated a day to read and write and meditate (certainly Laura must have wanted such a chance).

On the sixth of July the group again took to the road and continued toward Pike’s Peak and Denver.  A few days of travel brought them close enough to finally begin to see the mountains they were traveling toward, and to bring them within a few days of their goal.  The Booths began to talk of Denver and speculate about its appearance and to wonder about finding houses.  When they reached Denver they were surprised to see how scanty the vegetation was.  “And now the thot occurs, ‘What will become of the stock?  Where will they find sustenance?  They cannot live in a country like this.”  The landscape around Denver was dry and barren, reportedly due to a drought.  A ranch not far away was found which would take the animals.  With no housing immediately found, the Booths left Denver for the outskirts and a little “city of tents” where they found a place for their own tents.  And here we will leave them for now.

Denver in 1859
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540

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April-May Genealogy To-Do

Since I haven’t used this mode to organize myself recently, I will do that now:

The big thing that I know will happen in April is a reunion of old college friends in another week.  We managed to find a couple of days that we all could do, and a location we could all agree on, so we’re off the Nashville!  There are 7 of us at this point, one of whom is a relative newcomer to our group (but not to his wife’s life).  I am really looking forward to seeing everyone and catching up !  Fellow GenealogyGal Judy will be there too.

I find lately that I am bouncing from one family line to another pulled or pushed by contact with someone who asks a quesstion or tells me something.  I’m not really complaing, since I do find new evidence (and people) however I am aware that this is not research.  I’m not sure whether I’ll simply continue to enjoy it, or will try to take myself in hand and develop a research plan.  Stay tuned.

I will certainly continue to do the file naming clean-up that I’ve been chippping away at.  I’d like to have this done and evidence attached to individuals in the database by the end of the year.  I am not sure how reasonable a deadline this is, but I will give it a try.

I recently got re-involved in one of my husband’s cousins’ family lines via a DNA test (Hunt and McNamara).  I am feeling my way along in terms of how active and helpful the cousin wants me to be.  This is an interesting cousin to have DNA from because he and my husband are first cousins but he is only half Jewish (other half Irish).

I anticipate that one of my focuses will be the Salt and southwestern Ohio family line.  The man who bought the old Salt family house is very interested in local history and by extension the family, and he is giving a presentation at the Clermont County Historical Society the end of May.  I will be following along with him, and trying to provide answers to some of the questions he raises as he plans his talk.  I am so happy to have someone own the property who is taking this amount of interest in its history.

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The Rabbit Hole I Fell Down and Lost a Day

I started my morning with my first cup of coffee and what I intended to be a quick look at Facebook, just while I waited for my brain to wake up.  When I came across the entry from one of my favorite archivists (Scott Sanders, you have a lot to answer for!) who had posted the last picture and brief biography in celebration of Women’s History Month, I stopped and read it.

He had a picture and bio for Electra Collins Doren, a librarian from the sourthwestern Ohio area as his entry for today.  Her name caught my eye, as did his statement that she was originally from the Cincinnati area.  I have Collins individuals in my family tree and thought I recognized the name Electra Collins.  So I opened my RootsMagic tree and looked.  Yes, I have Collins, no, I do not have Electra.  I know I’ve seen that name though, even if not entered in my family tree.  What I do have is John Collins, a minister from New Jersey who married Sarah Blackman and moved to Clermont County in the very early 1800s.  I haven’t put any of their children in the tree because it is not a direct line.

So I didn’t have anyone already in my tree, but I wanted to know if Electra C. Doren was related to my Collins line.  I started looking on familysearch.org which has a lot of Ohio records since I knew she had been born and lived in Ohio.  I thought she had been born to a Collins family and based on her date of birth that she must be a generation down from John Collins.  However, as I looked and looked for her I couldn’t find any Collins that matched her.

After trying all the Collins birth and marriage records, and census records, I finally looked at family trees on familysearch and lo and behold!  there were two family trees listing her as the child of John Gates Doren and Elizabeth Bragdon Doren.  So she hadn’t been a Collins who married a Doren as I assumed, but Collins was her middle name.  Her mother’s maiden name was not Collins it was Bragdon (assuming the tree to be correct), so I tried looking for Elizabeth Bragdon.  That was my “ahha!” moment:  Elizabeth Bragdon was the daughter of George Bragdon and Electra Collins!  Plus, Electra Collins was listed as a daughter of John Collins and Sarah Blackman.  Sarah Blackman is my 4th great grandaunt and her parents are my 5th great grandparents.  Electra Collins Doren is my 3d cousin 3 times removed.

With this new information I was able to find death certificates for both Electra C. Doren and her father John Gates Doren (which she signed as the informant).  I also just found her mother’s death certificate, which Electra also signed as informant and which reports Elizabeth’s parents as George Bragdon and Electra Collins.  I lost most of the day to this distraction but had great fun finding out about this peripheral branch of my family.  I wonder if Scott would be interested in what I found?

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A Pioneer Story: Pioneer Days, Part 4, Heading West

By J. S. Fillmore (Library of Congress – Maps Division) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As Laura wrote, J.W. Booth wanted to investigate for himself the rumors of gold in the Rockies.  He presented the argument that “a trip over the plains would be beneficial to his health and result a permanent cure for the chills and fever which had afflicted him for  months past.”   He really wanted to move on from the Iowa farm and so they began to make their plans.

This would be different than his first trip looking for gold, when he was a younger and single man.  This time the young family would all go: J.W., Laura, and the two very young children (Willie and Nettie).  Since the farm had no livestock left, there was nothing required but to outfit themselves with enough to stay at least one year.  Laura did not say that they sold the land they owned, and a plan to stay at least a year suggests they intended to be able to come back if they did not find what they were looking for.  Based on Bureau of Land Management records J.W. owned at least 160 acres of land at the time they were preparing to leave for the Rockies.  I have not searched the land records further to see if or when they sold the land.

With a wife and children along they would need “two teams to transport the necessary amount of provisions and household goods for so lengthy a stay.”  In the two months they had to wait for winter to be past and the roads to have dried, they learned from experienced travelers “that horses could not endure the trip as well as oxen, as the latter could graze at night and thus obtain most of the necessary food… taking for granted that what we heard was true, we accepted the inevitable…”  They planned to travel with their horses to the southern part of the state to visit a relative there ”with whom we had arranged to exchange our horses for two yokes of oxen.”  Laura does not say who this relative was or exactly where, but she did say it took them a week’s travel to go a distance of about 150 miles.

I had thought it might have been Laura’s aunt Jane Denman’s family that they planned to make this exchange with.  Jane Denman had married first Miles Wheaton in New York and on his death she married Perry Durfee in Illinois.  She had joined the Church of the Latter Day Saints, perhaps in order to marry Perry Durfee or perhaps that was how she met him.  At any rate, although the Durfee family was in Pottawattamie County, Iowa in 1850 (by the census), by 1860 they were in California (also by the census).  Thus it seems unlikely that this was the relative.  There was also a William H. Denman who had bought land (based on Bureau of Land Management records) in Iowa, in two different locations, one of the Pottawattamie County, however there is no evidence that he ever lived there.  Furthermore, I do not yet know how he fits into the family tree.

The Booth family was enumerated in Plattville Township, Mills County, Iowa (just south of Pottawattamie) in June for the 1860 census, having left “our uncles” on about the 12 of May.  It was at this point that they had truly started the long journey across the plain, and in the first month with the slower oxen teams they had not yet crossed the Missouri River into Nebraska.  An interesting note from the census: although Laura had mentioned two family names of people accompanying them (a minister named Gilliland and his family, and the Booth brother-in-law George Beed whose wife was visiting in Ohio), they do not appear to have camped together at the time of the census.  Neither of these names showed up on the 1860 census with the Booths, but showed up in another area of Plattville Township together, on an earlier date (June 2 as compared to June 8 for the Booth enumeration).  Also interestingly, although George Beed was reported to be traveling on his own with his wife in Ohio, he listed his wife and young son.  Marinda (called Clarinda on the Iowa enumeration) and Arthur W (or A.W. on the Ohio enumeration) were clearly counted twice.  They were also enumerated on the Ohio 1860 census in her father’s household (on July 2).

Laura described the travel, the camping and sleeping arrangements, and a runaway team that enlivend one day of their early traveling.  Although she described the great interest of the party in reaching and seeing the Missouri River, she also noted that she did not remember “the manner of crossing the river but suppose it was by ferry”.  With that crossing they reached Plattsmouth, Nebraska and received their mail, the first since leaving home she notes (although she says first for the two weeks since leaving their homes,  which doesn’t fit with what she wrote before and I think she meant two months).  All were glad to hear from friends and family, and Laura reported that their “English brother” received a letter from his wife pleading with him to return home and out of the danger all feared from the Indians.  He was reported as dutifully doing so, abandoning his trip and returning to Ohio to take his family back to their Iowa home.

For now I will leave the Booths and their companions as they begin the trek across Nebraska toward Colorado.  Next time I will follow them as they made their way West.

Note: the map at the top was done in 1861; the red arrow shows where Plattsmouth, Nebraska is and the Booth homestead isn’t shown, being in the central northern part of Iowa that isn’t shown on the map.

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Portrait of Z. B. Coffin – One Mystery Solved

This oil portrait of Zebulon B. Coffin, my second great grandfather, has hung in my living room since shortly after we moved into this house in 1983.  Before that it spent I don’t know how much time in several attics.  When it was passed along to me there wasn’t really much of anything known about it: not who painted it, or when, or why it was painted.

A number of years ago, I discovered in reading through a set of family diaries from his family that it had been done for his daughter Jessie’s birthday one year, but at the time I was originally reading through them I did not make any notes or entries anywhere so I could remember the details.  This past year I added the specific task to my 25-minute tasks of going back and finding that specific entry so the information can be added to the back of the picture (at least a date).

I recently began reading the first family diary again in my search for the remembered entry, and lo and behold! I found it in the first year of the first diary being kept, which was started the end of August 1885.

“Friday Nov 20/85  Mamma’s birth-day.  Mamma was able to come down to breakfast and when she got to the dining-room was surprised to see an oil painting of Grandpa, hanging over the mantle.  Grandpa had it painted by Mr. Weber, to have for a surprise on ‘this day’.  When Mamma went to sit down she found her chair occupied by some boxes of paper from Sister, handkerchiefs from Papa, gloves from Grandpa, a table scarf from me and some silk stockings and shoes from Burtie which we had stuffed with cotton and made look very funny.

Uncle came over to supper and brought a gold scarf-pin.  We all enjoyed the Supper and afterwards, cream & cake.”

This entry was written by Mamma’s younger daughter, Mary Alice Dalton.  Mamma was Jessie M. Coffin Dalton, daughter of Z.B. Coffin (Grandpa) and wife of Richard J. Dalton (Papa).  Their older daughter, often called Sister by Alice, was named Jessie Belle and usually called Belle.  Burtie was Anthony B. Burton, an “adopted” member of the family who worked in the store with Z.B. and lived with them.  The family diary was an idea he (I am guessing it was his idea not Alice’s) adopted from a newspaper article and he and Alice were to be the family keepers of said diary.  Alice was only 16 when they started this project and still a student in high school.

It is this blended family that started me on my quest for knowing more family information, as I wrote in the first days of this blog.  In fact, it was Alice Dalton herself (or a picture of her) that was my first introduction to family history.  The family diary that was kept (mostly by Burtie or ABB after about the first 6 months) provides a full picture of what life was like for them in the late 1800s, living in Newport Kentucky on one side of the Ohio River and Z.B. having a store over the river in Cincinnati.  I hope in future to transcribe more of the entries and write about the family’s doings here.


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