Picturing The Past

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For the past year I have been teaching a class based on my Old Voices book, research, and unpublished patterns that are a part of my Old Voices project. Each month the students receive several patterns and a quote with each pattern from the Nineteenth Century. These quotes were written by women who experienced the event described.  Many of the quotes I find come from Journals or letters written at the time the events occurred.

I have recently noticed that, for the most part, much of what I read was written by young women who were unencumbered by the responsibilities of a family to care for, or they were written by older women, whose families were raised and who now had the luxury of time to write remembrances of their earlier lives.

This past week I found two journals kept by young women who wrote descriptively in real time about their experiences on the trek west—one to Utah and the other to Oregon.

The quotes I am sharing with you today are from the first days of their individual trips. The whole experience was new and exciting to them. You will feel their excitement in their words. Their descriptions are vivid and charming as they describe a time and a part of history that is long gone.

The photos show here were taken in Utah at a time of the year when these two journal-keepers would have arrived at their destinations.

Journal of Emiline B. Wells
February 27, 1846. Mrs. Whitney, Sarah Ann, and myself crossed the river to go to the encampment of the saints. Br. Lot and his wife took Mrs. W. and myself in their carriage. We crossed the river a part of the way on foot, and then went on to the encampment about 7 miles beyond;
We reached the destined place about sunset. When we came in view it looked like pictures I have seen of the ancients pitching their tents and journeying from place to place with their cattle and their goods.
We repaired immediately to Br. H.C.Kimballs tent, took supper, and slept for the first time on the ground. There was a snow-storm without yet all was peace and harmony within.
Tues; March 3, 1946. This morning we arose early…After breakfast Loenza Maria and I took a walk in the woods. Just behind the tent we found stems of strawberry leaves; green-and fresh. I intend to keep them as a memorial of this time.
From the village we had a very bad road. It was so dreadful muddy and crooked….It was after dark when we came in sight of the camp and dismal-looking it is. The tents are all huddled together and the horses and wagons are interspersed. Some are singing and laughing, some are praying, children crying, etc. Every sound may be heard from one tent to another. It is late and I must retire.
Journal of Abigail Jane Scott
“April 2d 1852; Leaving home, home friends and home associates in Old Tazewell, we are this evening snugly quartered in the open prairie 15 miles from Peoria…. Have had but little difficulty in our journey so far; – crossed the Illinois river ( for perhaps the last time) with but little difficulty and in a word have had no trouble at all except what has been occasioned by bidding farewell forever to those with whom most of us have associated all our lives; and to me it was a great trial to leave the home of my childhood…….,when I came to know more thoughtful days I have loved to silently muse over the varying vicissitudes of life and loved to wander alone to the sequestered grove, to hold communion unseen by mortal eye with the works of nature and of God.

But here we are, and here I am seated by a blazing fire with Heaven’s canopy over my head trying to compose my mind and trying (almost in vain to see how form my thoughts into writing by the flickering and uncertain blaze of the large wood fire; all with us is animation (and not a little confusion) and all are quite anxious to go to ahead.”


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