Book Review: Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1850 (edited by Kenneth L. Holmes) : WW | HistoryNet MENU

Book Review: Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1850 (edited by Kenneth L. Holmes) : WW

8/12/2001 • Reviews, Wild West Reviews

Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1850edited by Kenneth L. Holmes,University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1996, $13 paperback.
Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1851edited by Kenneth L. Holmes, Univ. of Neb. Press, 1997, $13 paperback.

These two books are reprinted from Volumes 2 and 3 of an 11-volume 1983 work, Covered Wagon Women: Diaries and Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1890, published by the Arthur H. Clark Co. In Volume 2, Holmes introduces six women who kept accounts of their westward journeys to California and Oregon and then presents their journals just as they were written in the 19th century. “In their simple and unassuming details, women’s diaries were revolutionary because they offered a vision different from the one that had prevailed for so long,” writes Lillian Schlissel, author of Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, in the introduction to Volume 2. There was the daily routine on the trail, for sure, but there were also the dangers–the primary one being the cholera epidemic. In her June 19 entry, emigrant Lucena Parsons writes, “This afternoon we past the grave of a man that died the 15th of the dreaded cholera.” The June 20 entry says, “Past 6 graves all made within 5 days & all died of the cholera.” And there would be plenty more graves “past.” The longest account belongs to Margaret A. Frink; Holmes calls Frink’s relatively detailed journal (published in 1897, four years after her death) “a treasure of American history.” More treasures can be found in Volume 3, which features the writings of six women bound for Oregon and a Mormon woman bound for Salt Lake City. All of them say something about the Indians they saw along the trail and the weather. Susan Armitage points out in her introduction to Volume 3 that these women said little about personal relationships. Perhaps they felt it proper to conceal such things…or perhaps they just didn’t have the time for that kind of reflection.

 

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