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Tuesday, March 19, 1850

Always one to be fully prepared, John App began organizing his provisions and supplies in February of 1850 but he wouldn’t begin the journey west until Wednesday, March 27, 1850. The gold rush was underway and he felt a need to become part of it. His traveling companion was Jacob Broadwell, a friend from their hometown of Pekin, Illinois. Some pioneers brought along too many supplies and found themselves having to toss some of their non-essential cargo overboard when the going got tough along the trail further west. Some didn’t take enough supplies and suffered later in the trip.

John and Jake were very practical and took along only what they needed (knowing they could obtain certain supplies along the way). Most pioneers used oxen to power their wagons but some, like John, used mules. Oxen were slower, better tempered, and could pull more weight than mules. They could also handle adverse trail conditions better. Mules could get overexcited, but were faster than the oxen. John opted for speed and that is why he traveled light and used mules. “Fan” was the saddle mule, and “Liz” was the little gray. You should know that travelers walked alongside their wagons to lighten the load, and very few rode in wagons or on animals.

There were advantages to speed along the trail. If you made good time and were ahead of the crowd there was more green grass for the animals, the weather wasn’t as hot, and (maybe most importantly) diseases could be avoided. Bringing up the rear of a season’s procession exposed travelers to the deadly disease, cholera. Stories were told of people feeling fine when travel began in the morning, but were dead and buried by evening… the victims of cholera.

John liked statistics and counted, or measured, all kinds of things. An entry in his diary detailed the population of Pekin, Illinois as of August 8th, 1849: there were 699 males, 554 females, totaling 1,253. Of that number 377 were children under the age of 12.

Other diary entries listed a recipe for the treatment of cholera. It was called “cholera powders” and consisted of 6 grains of blue moss, 6 grains of powdered opium, 6 grains of powdered camphor, 6 grains of capsicum, and 1 drachma of prepared chalk. A dose was taken every three hours until [diarrhea] stopped. Other concoctions he listed for diarrhea and for a purgative (at least I think that’s what they were for) included: (1) 30 drops of laudanum to 1 tsp camphor; (2) Brandy and 20 drops of laudanum and 1 tsp cayenne pepper; (3) 100 grains of calomel, opium, and cayenne pepper. I will let you look up what these ingredients are and what they were used for.

Through the years his diary has been remarkably preserved and was originally in the possession of Mrs. Pat (Heiskell) Hillman, Tulare, California, a great-granddaughter of John. [note: it has since been donated to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, the largest repository of western history in the US]. The diary measures 3.9 inches (10 cm) wide, 5.7 inches (14.5 cm) tall, 0.3 inches (8 mm) thick and has a tan, leather covering with plain paper pages bound with string. John wrote his diary in pencil although there are some notes made in ink from a time prior to his departure west. It has become fragile with age, but is still very much in readable condition with the leather cover still retaining a soft feel.

1850 Diary Cover

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