Tuesday, November 24, 2015

We hope for better times

‘Our Co for the first time have the sad duty to perform of burying one of their number. Jane is also quite sick of a Diareah but we hope not dangerous. [. . .] many are complaining & the dust is the greatest hardship to endure we have found on our whole journey. But we hope for better times.’ This is the heartfelt diary writing of Polly Lavinia Crandall Coon - born 1890 years ago today - travelling with others on the long and arduous trail across the continent, from Wisconsin to Oregon, in search of a better life.

Polly Lavinia was born on 24 November 1825 in Alfred, Allegheny, New York, the eldest child of what would become a large family. In 1838, the family moved west to Lima, Rock County, Wisconsin where they settled. Paul became one of the members of the Wisconsin constitutional convention in 1847, and was dubbed a ‘Father of Wisconsin’. But, in 1952, they set off, west again, overland in wagons to Oregon, with most of their children, including Polly and her daughter. Polly’s husband, Thomas, and her brother had already made the journey a year or two earlier.

Once settled in the new land, Thomas died, in early 1854, and two months later Polly gave birth to their second child. Soon after, Polly had her claim of land surveyed. She sold it off in lots to form a new town, called Silverton - on the banks of Silver Creek. She taught at a school in Silverton, and also in Salem and other nearby communities. In 1855, she married Stephen Price, a carpenter and millwright, who built them a new home. They had one son, before moving, in 1856, to Salem; and much later they lived in Hood River, on the south bank of the Columbia River. Both Stephen and Polly died in 1898. Not much is known of Polly, though a little more information can be found at the Liberal University of Oregon website.

A daily diary kept by Polly on her journey was published by A. H. Clark, in 1983, within Covered Wagon Women - Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1852: The Oregon Trail, as edited and compiled by Kenneth L. Holmes and David C. Duniway. This was the fifth volume of an eleven-volume series: Covered Wagon Women - Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1890. Some pages of Polly’s diary - Journal of a Journey Over the Rocky Mountains - can be read at Googlebooks. Here are a few extracts (they are as originally published except for a few full stops which I have inserted where they naturally ought to be).

29 March 1852
‘Started from the town of Lima Rock Co. Wis. on our long contemplated journey to seek a home on the Pacific coast, in the territory of Oregon. Passed through Janesville to the town of Plymouth where we struck our camp for the first time, & found that we had truly left all comfort behind at least as far as the weather is concerned. But all are in health & spirits seeming determined to manufacture as much comfort as possible from what material we have.’

8 April 1852
‘All are well & in excellent spirits. We traveled yesterday 16 miles and camped on a vast prairie in Lafayette Co where nothing but land & sky were to be seen save one little log house. But to make up the absence of other interesting matter we found a wedding party assembled in the aforesaid “log house”. The “old Man” came up and gave us all an invite to attend the dance in the evening. We all went down but none of us joined in the exercises but Ray & Stallman. They reported to have had a very fine time and staid till morning the others returned at 9 o’clock. We have tonight a beautiful camping ground near the line between G[r]ant and Lafayette pleasant weather but still wet under foot.’

9 April 1852
‘Rained all day consequently we have laid by - improving the time in doing some baking. At night the ground being very wet we were obliged to take shelter in the house.’

10 April 1852
‘Reached the Mississippi at Eagle Ferry 2 miles above Dubuque found a number of teams in wait to go over.’

11 April 1852
‘After being delayed all day in getting all crossed over we at length reach Dubuque. We made a few purchases & excited not a little curiosity nor a few remarks from the good people of the city by our “Bloomer Dresses.” Left this town about 3 o’clock passing out some 2 miles through the deepest mud & worst roads I ever saw. Camped in a field & got about half enough poor hay for which the Man charges 30 cts per yoke. I record this as a demonstration of the depth of the heartlessness to which the human heart is capable of arriving.’

12 April 1852
‘Our brother Ray left us this morning - It was with deep regret and tearful eyes we left him to plod on alone towards his home. We feel sad that we leave him behind but hope another year will bring him to Oregon. This after noon it is quite pleasant except the chilling winds which sweep furiously across the endless praries of the state of Iowa. All well and judging from the talking and laughing we hear from the adjoining tent all are in good spirits. The roads continue very bad otherwise we get along very finely.’

11 May 1852
‘Traveled near about 16 miles & camped again on a large Prarie near a beautiful spring which we consider a great treat. After getting our tents pitched & supper nearly in readiness a heavy thunder shower struck us & we were nearly drenched but succeeded in keeping our beds tolerable dry.’

28 May 1852
‘We have all felt much distressed today at witnessing a scene truly heartrending. About noon we came by a Camp where yesterday all were well & today one man was buried - another dying & still another sick. The disease was Diareah which which they had not medicine to check & the result from death. The man that was buried left a young wife to either return through a savage country or go on alone and heartbroken. Many of our Company are complaining but none very sick.’

13 August 1852
‘Dr Weber grew worse after stoping, medicine had no effect & about 1 o’clock at night he died. Our Co for the first time have the sad duty to perform of burying one of their number. Jane is also quite sick of a Diareah but we hope not dangerous. Samuel does not not improve much. The weather is so very hot & dusty that very many are complaining & the dust is the greatest hardship to endure we have found on our whole journey. But we hope for better times.’

17 August 1852
‘Our Co commenced crossing - having stretched a rope across the river & coupled two wagon boxes together, towed over the cattle first & then carried our wagons, luggage & people. We got over quite early with the sick ones in order to make them as comfortable as possible.’

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