John Mathias App: 1850 Diary

Gathering Provisions

John App starts accumulating the supplies and provisions he knows are necessary for him to successfully complete the journey to California.

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Leaving Home

John App leaves his home in Pekin, Illinois with his loaded wagon, two mules and his friend, Jake. Destination: California.

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Easter Sunday

Today is Easter. John and Jake are camped at a farm, near Macomb, Illinois, and the owner has invited them to his house for dinner.

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Promise City, Iowa

Having traveled 20 miles (32 km) yesterday, and 20 miles today John App and his friend, Jake, are camped in south central Iowa near today’s Promise City.

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Western Iowa

For them it was cold, windy, snowy and all they had for shelter was their wagon. Yet, John never complained about the weather during his entire trip… it was just part of each day’s journey.

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On to St. Joseph

By 1850 St. Joseph was one of the busiest spots in the nation. Travelers from the east have done their best getting to St. Joseph any way they could.

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Arrival at St. Joseph

Today they arrived in St. Joseph, Missouri. While they are here they are busy gathering supplies and waiting their turn to cross the Missouri River.

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Waiting in St. Joseph

John is also making repairs, getting caught up with mail, and waiting his turn for the ferry. Once across, they will be traveling the St. Joseph Road on their way toward Fort Kearny.

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On the St. Joseph Road

John App and Jake have crossed the Missouri River and are on their way to the gold fields in California. In this post we meet John’s traveling companion, Jacob Broadwell.

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West of Hiawatha, Kansas

They are now in Indian territory, camped tonight just west of today’s Hiawatha, Kansas. They are about halfway between St. Joseph, Missouri and today’s Marysville, Kansas.

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Following the Little Blue

They are following the Little Blue River, a river in southern Nebraska and northern Kansas. Soon their trail will meet the main California-Oregon Trail on south side of the Platte River.

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Fort Kearny, Nebraska

John and Jake are about 350 miles west of St. Joseph. They are passing Fort Kearny (established in 1848) on the south side of the Platte River.

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O’Fallon’s Bluff

On areas of the trail where many wagons could travel side-by-side, the ruts take on more of a shallow indentation of the earth rather than grooved wagon wheel tracks.

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Resting at Ash Hollow

Entering by going over Windlass Hill, Ash Hollow with its water, wood, and grass was a welcome relief for the travelers. Emigrants stopped here for rest, and to make repairs.

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Chimney Rock

Seen by emigrants from 30 miles away, Chimney Rock marks the end of easy traveling across the prairies. It also gave them encouragement that they were headed in the right direction.

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Fort Laramie in Wyoming

Fort Laramie served as a military post in the western Indian wars, and was the place where important treaties were signed between the US government and the Cheyenne, Sioux, Arapaho, Crow, Assiniboine, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nations.

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Nebraska and Wyoming

The aerial footage in this video shows the landscape in a way that is not easily seen from the ground. It reveals the expansive landscape of the American West, which is very impressive and ruggedly beautiful.

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Deep Rut Hill

At the deep ruts in Guernsey, Wyoming wagons going west traveled in single file over the sandstone surface gouging ruts ranging from 2 to 6 feet deep and no wider than the width of a wagon.

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Independence Rock, Wyoming

This is a huge granite boulder where travelers left their names – about 5,000 of them – painted in axle grease and chiseled into the stone. 170 years later a few names, especially the chiseled names, remain readable.

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Devil’s Gate, Wyoming

Devil’s Gate is a geologic formation that is 400 feet high, 300 feet wide at the top and 30 feet wide at the bottom through which the Sweetwater River flows. It was a curiosity to the emigrants.

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South Pass, Wyoming

Traveling over South Pass is the main route to the west through the Rockies for most of the emigrants, and at its summit is the Continental Divide. The wheel markings from the travelers’ wagons remain visible yet today in the hard packed soil.

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Crossing the Green River

A dangerous challenge was crossing the Green River, a north-south barrier to the east-west route of the California-Oregon Trail and a formidable obstacle. Every emigrant had to cross it in some manner.

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On the Fort Hall Road

After leaving the Sublette Cutoff, and before starting on the Hudspeth Cutoff at Soda Springs, Idaho, John and Jake, passed many places with interesting names like Thomas Fork, Big Hill, and Pegleg Smith’s Trading Post.

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Hudspeth’s Cutoff

Traveling on the Fort Hall Road (the more established California-Oregon Trail route), or traveling on Hudspeth’s Cutoff took about the same amount of time as the emigrants eventually discovered.

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Crossing the Raft River

The Raft River is usually dry for much of the year since it exists only for runoff from snow-melt. They are traveling across very difficult terrain between the eastern edge of the Great Basin and to the west of the Great Salt Lake.

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Through the Great Basin

The “Mary’s”, or the “Humboldt River”, is the 4th largest river in the west with no outlet to the ocean. In fact, it eventually disappears into the ground at the Humboldt Sink in the Great Basin.

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Camping on the Humboldt

John and Jake are in the area of the American West called the Great Basin. It is an area generally bounded on the east by the Wasatch Mountains in Utah, and on the west by the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade Mountains.

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