Log Entries for June, 1846


The emigrants who would later form the Donner Party traveled with the Russell Party from Alcove Spring in the Indian Territory, in what is now Kansas, to the Platte River near Laramie Peak, in what is now eastern Wyoming.

The dated entries below are from the diary of Hiram Miller and James F. Reed.  The Diary is controversial to some historians.  The existence of the diary was not known until the estate of Martha (Patty) Reed donated it to Sutter's Fort Historical Museum in 1945.  Apparently neither Virginia nor Patty revealed the diary to McGlashan.  Some of the entries appear to have been written after the events, which led both Stewart and King to question it.  King went so far as to suggest that some entries may have been written after Reed arrived in California, but this seems unlikely.

Monday, June 1, 1846

"June 1 1846 and from their we traveled a Bout 15 mills and Camped on prairie Creek" [The camp was probably near the location of the later Pony Express station, which can be seen today just east of Hanover, Kansas.]

Bryant describes the day: "Cloudy, with a cold, raw wind from the northwest. The great and sudden change of the temperature, connected with the heavy fall of rain last night, completely drenching every thing exposed to it, is exceedingly distressing to the women and children, who generally are thinly clothed, and uprepared to resist the effects fo exposure and atmospheric eccentricities."

Tuesday, June 2, 1846

"2 And from their wee traveled a Bout 15 miles and Camped on prairie Creek" [This camp was near the present Rock Creek Station State Historical Park, another Pony Express station, near Endiccott, Nebraska.]

Charles Stanton, in a letter dated June 12 to his brother Sidney, describes the impact on the party of the departure on June 2 of a party bound for Oregon: "In our encampment we had several Oregon families, constituting twenty wagons. Some little disturbance arising, they concluded to withdraw from our party and go on their own hook, forming a company of their own, mustering a force of some twenty fighting men. They went on ahead for several days encamped one or two miles of us. In their party there were many young ladies-in ours mostly young men. Friendships and attachments had been formed which were hard to break; for ever since, our company is nearly deserted, by the young men every day riding out on horseback, pretending to hunt, but instead of pursuing the bounding deer or fleet antelope, they are generally found among the fair Oregon girls! Thus they go, every day, making love by the road-side, in the midst of the wildest and most beautiful scenery, now admiring the meanderings of some delightful stream, or course of some noble river!" [It is supposed that "making love" did not mean then what is does now!]

Wednesday, June 3, 1846

"3 And from their wee traveled a Bout 16 miles and Camped on the Bear Creek." [This creek was also known by its present name, the Sandy.]

McKinstry describes the trail: "traveled through a broken country plenty of wood & water the ditches in the Praries verry bad several teams were stalled" Bryant describes an episode involving one of the families who would later join the Donner Party: "A wagon belonging to a German emigrant named Keyesburgh, whose wife carried in her arms a small child, and was in a delicate condition, was upset, and the woman and child precipitated into a pool of water. The tongue of the wagon was broken, and all its contents were thoroughly wet and plastered with mud. Fortunately, however, no other damage was done. The woman and child escaped without material injury."

Thursday, June 4, 1846

"4 and from their wee traveled a Bout 20 miles and Camped on the Blue"

The emigrants began to see the wildlife of the prairie that was new to them, as described by Bryant: "About noon a number of antelopes were seen grazing, about two or three miles. ... I never saw an animal that could run with the apparent ease, speed, and grace of these. They seem to fly, or skim over the ground, so bounding and bouyant are their strides, and so bird-like their progress."

Friday, June 5, 1846

"5 And from their wee traveled a Bowt 20 miles and Camped on the litle Blue"

On June 12, Charles Stanton wrote a letter to his brother Sidney, and described the Little Blue river: "After travelling one or two days, we encamped upon the Little Blue which abounds in fish, and my skill as a fisherman was here put to the test; but I succeeded in catching one of the finest cat you ever saw, which we had the next morning for breakfast. .... We journeyed for several days up this delightful stream, and every night found romantic camping ground. The scenery was most beautiful--the eye wandered over fair prospects of hill and dale."

Saturday, June 6, 1846

"6 and from their wee traveled up the little Blue a Bout 18 miles and Camped on the Blue"

Sunday, June 7, 1846

"7 and from their wee traveled a Bowt 16 miles and Camped on the Trbutary of the Plat" [From Jefferson's map, it appears that the camp was on a tributary of the Little Blue, not the Platte. The site is southwest of the present Hastings, Nebraska.]

On June 16, 1846, Mrs. George (Tamsen) Donner wrote to her friend back home in Springfield: "Our journey, so far, has been pleasant. ... Our route at first was rough and through a timbered country which appeared to be fertile. After striking the prairie we found a first rate road, and the only difficulty we had has been crossing creeks. ... The prairie between the Blue and the Platte rivers is beautiful beyond description. Never have I seen so varied a country--so suitable for cultivation. Every thing was new and pleasing."

Bryant's journal provides far more information on this day's travel, which was the first of the many "dry drives" that would be encountered on the California Trail. "We continued along the banks of the Little Blue until noon, when the trail diverged from the stream to the right, ascending over the blufffs, into the high table-land of the prairie, in order to strike the Platte river, the estimated distance of which from this point is twenty-seven miles. We supplied ourselves with water and wood, expecting to encamp to-night where neither of these could be obtained."

Bryant encountered trouble on the Trail, and was helped by one of the people who would later join the Donner Party: "About two o'clock, P.M., in crossing a ravine the bank of which was steep, one of the axletrees of our wagon broke down entirely, .... The train "rolled" past us, but a number of men sufficient to assist in repairing the damage to our vehicle remained. The tools with which we had provided oursleves in the event of accidents, consisting of a saw, shaving-knife, augers, chisels, hammers, etc. etc., were now found indispensible. With the aid of these, Mr. Eddy, a carriage-maker by trade, was soon as busily at work in adjusting the new axletree to the size of the irons appertaining to the wheels, as if he had been in his own shop at home."

Bryant and the other emigrants were fortunate again that night: "To my surprise, when I approached nearer the encampment, I found the corral formed on a handsome sloping lawn near the brink of a chain of small pools of clear water, shaded by ash and elm trees. This was unexpected, as we had been informed there was no water between the Little Blue and the Platte."

Monday, June 8, 1846

"8 and from their wee traveled a Bowt 18 miles and Camped on the plat" [The site was on the south bank of the river, across from present Gibbon, Nebraska, about twenty-five miles west of Grand Island.]

The Platte, the first great "highway" of the west, the second being the Humboldt, was quite a sight compared to the dry prairie and small creeks that preceded it. Bryant describes his first view: "We reached the bluffs bordering the valley of the Platte, about three o'clock, P.M., and from these we had a view of the valley beyond and the river winding through it. ... Opposite to our camp is Grand Island, which extends up and down the river farther than the eye can reach, but its exact dimension I do not know."

On June 12, Charles Stanton wrote a letter to his brother Sidney describing the crossing from the Blue to the Platte: "Every one was anxious to reach the Platte. .... We had now travelled four days up the Blue, and one day's march would take us to that great river. This day's march, therefore, was resumed with alacrity. We had to cross a high elevated plain, the dividing ridge between the waters of the Kansas and the Platte. About eleven A.M. we could perceive, as we crossed the highest elevation, that the land gradually descended both ways, and far in the distance could see the little mounds or hillocks, which formed the ridge or bluffs of the noble river. .... It was about two P.M., when, in ascending a high point of land, we saw, spread out before us, the valley of the noble Platte. We all hallooed with pleasure and surprise. The valley of the Platte! there is none other like it. The bluffs are from ten to fifteen miles apart, the river, of over a mile in width, flowing through the centre. The bluffs suddenly fall down from 50 to 100 feet, when there is a gradual slope to the water's edge. There is not a single stick of timber to be seen on either side of the river--it is one interminible prairie as far as the eye can extend; yet there is relief found in the numerous islands of the river being generally covered with wood."

In her 1891 memoirs, Virginia Reed fondly recalled the Platte: "The road at first was rough and led through a timbered country, but after striking the great valley of the Platte the road was good and the country beautiful. Stretching out before us as far as the eye could reach was a valley as green as emerald, dotted here and there with flowers of every imaginable color, and through this valley flowed the grand old Platte, a wide, rapid, shallow stream. ... Exercise in the open air under bright skies, and freedom from peril, combined to make this part of our journey an ideal pleasure trip. How I enjoyed riding my pony, galloping over the plain, gathering wild flowers! At night the young folks would gather about the camp fire chatting merrily, and often a song would be heard, or some clever dancer would give us a barn-door jig on the hind gate of a wagon."

Tuesday, June 9, 1846

"9 And from their wee traveled a Bowt 18 miles and Camped on the Plat near the 20 Isleands" [This camp was west of the site of the later Fort Kearney, constructed in 1849.]

Bryant described the view from the camp: "We encamped late this afternoon on the bank of the Platte. From our position I counted twenty-five islands, varying in dimensions from, generally from a rod to a quarter of a mile in diameter. The green herbage, trees, and shrubbery upon them, assume many singular and rather fantastic shapes, ...."

Wednesday, June 10, 1846

"10 and from their wee Traveled a Bowt 18 miles and Camped near the Plat on a small creek"

According to Bryant, this camp was not pleasant: "We encamped this afternoon on a small creek emptying into the Platte, the waters of which are brackish and disagreeable to the taste, and not conducive to health. This remark is applicable to many of the small affluents of the Platte. The mosquitoes, morning and evening, have been very troublesome since we entered this valley. They collect about our animals and ourselves in immense swarms, and bite with the most ravenous eagerness."

Thursday, June 11, 1846

"11 and from their wee traveled up the Plat a Bowt 18 miles and Camped near the Plat"

Friday, June 12, 1846

"12 and from their we traveled up the Plat a Bowt 18 miles and Camped near the Plat"

On June 16, James Reed wrote to his brother-in-law James Keyes: "My first appearance on the wilds of the Nebraska as a hunter, was on the 12th inst., when I returned to camp with a splendid two year old Elk, the first only only one killed by the caravan as yet. I picked the Elk I killed, out of eight of the largest I ever beheld, and I do really believe there was one in the gang as large as the horse I rode."

Bryant's journal contains this entry: "Mr. Reed shot a large elk to-day, and brought the carcass into camp. The flesh of the elk is coarse, but this was tender, fat, and of good flavor."

Saturday, June 13, 1846

"13 wee Remained their one day and Repaired their waggons"

Bryant described the repairs: "The wood-work of many of the wagon wheels have contracted so much from the effects of the dry atmosphere on the Platte, that the tires have become loose, and require resetting. There being sufficient wood to make the fires necessary for this purpose at this encampment, it was determined that we should remain for the day."

Sunday, June 14, 1846

"14 and from their wee traveled up the Plat a Bout 17 miles and Camped near a grove on the Plat"

Monday, June 15, 1846

"15 and from their wee traveled up the Plat a Bowt 18 miles and Camped near the Plat By a fine Spring near the Road no timber A Bout a half a mile from the forkes of the River" [The camp was just east of present North Platte, Nebraska, on the south side of the river.]

Bryant described the spring: "We encamped this afternoon about a mile from the junction of the north and south forks of the Platte, near a spring of cold pure water, than which to the weary and thirsty traveller in this region nothing can be more grateful and luxurious."

Reed had hunted that day, as he described in his letter of June 16. He revealed much about his nature: "We have had two Buffalo killed. The men that killed them are considered the best buffalo hunters on the road--perfect "stars." Knowing that Glaucus could beat any horse on the Nebraska, I came to the conclusion that as far as buffalo killing was concerned, I could beat them. Accordingly, yesterday I thought to try my luck. The old buffalo hunters and as many others as they would permit to be in their company, having left the camp for a hunt, Hiram Miller, my self and two others, after due preparation, took up the line of march. Before we left, every thing in camp was talking about Mr so and so, had gone hunting, and we would have some choice buffalo meat. No one though or spoke of the two Sucker hunters, and none but the two asked to go with us. ... we saw a large herd.... On we went towards them as coolly and calmly as the nature of the case would permit. And now, as perfectly green as I was I had to compete with old experienced hunters, and remove the stars from their brows; which was my greatest ambition, and in order too, that they might see that a Sucker had the best horse in the company, and the best and most daring horseman in the caravan. Closing upon a gang of ten or twelve bulls, the word was given, and I was soon in their midst. .... At last I loaded, and soon the chase ended.--and I had two dead and a third mortally wounded and dying. .... A short distance off we saw another drove of calves. Again the chase was renewed, and soon I laid out another fine calf upon the plains."

Tuesday, June 16, 1846

"16 and from their wee traveled up the Sowth fork 14 miles and Camped on the Plat their is no timber"

On this day, James Reed wrote to his brother-in-law James Keyes in Springfield: "To-day, at morning, there passed, going to the States, seven men from Oregon, who went out last year. One of them was well acquainted with ... Caden Keys, ... whom he says went to California. .... To-morrow we cross the river, and by our reckoning will be 200 miles from Fort Laramere, where we intend to stop and repair our waggon wheels; they are nearly all loose, and I am afraid we will have to stop sooner if there can be found wood suitable to heat the tire. There is no wood here, and our women and children are now out gathering "Buffalo chips" to burn in order to do the cooking. These "chips" burn well. As far as I am concerned, by family affairs go on smoothly, .... The face of the country here is rather hilly, although it has the name of "plains." The weather is rather warm--thermometer ranging in the middle of the day at about 90, and at night 41. .... Our teams are getting on fine so far. Most of the emigrants ahead have reduced their teams. The grass is much better this year throughout the whole route than the last."

"Caden Keys" was Reed's other brother-in-law, Robert Cadden Keyes, whom Reed's mother-in-law Sarah Keyes had hoped to see before she died. Robert Keyes went to California, and in March, 1846 wrote to James Keyes, who passed the following information on to James Reed in a letter dated May 15, 1846, and apparently carried to Reed somewhere on the Trail: "[Cad] does not say when he Reached Monterey or how he will very likely meet you on the way as you expected." Cad did not head east, but went to Oregon City, where on June 17, 1846, he wrote this letter to the Oregon Emigration: "I make this statement to you concerning California, and the operations of men there: Captain Hastings left the 4th of May to meet the company from the United States, for the purpose of persuading them from their path, and enticing them to California. Now, this I can say to you that may hear Hastings tell of the wonders of California, ... I have seen enough of Oregon to perceive that it is the best grazing country of the two, and for agriculture they wont compare." It is not known whether this letter was carried eastward to the Reed and the other emigrants.

On this day, Mrs. George (Tamsen) Donner wrote to a friend in Springfield: "We are now on the Platte, 200 miles from Fort Laramie. .... Wood is now very scarce, but "Buffalo chips" are excellent--they kindle quick and retain heat surprisingly. We had this evening Buffalo steaks broiled upon them that had the same flavor they would have had upon hickory coals. We feel no fear of Indians. Our cattle graze quietly around our encampment unmolested. Two or three men will go hunting twenty miles from camp;--and last night two of our men lay out in the wilderness rather than ride their horses after a hard chase. Indeed if I do not experience something far worse than I have yet done, I shall say the trouble is all in getting started. .... George Donner is himself yet. He crows in the morning, and shouts out "Chain up, boys!--chain up!" with as much authority as though he was "something inparticular." John Denton is still with us--we find him a useful man in camp. Hiram Miller and Noah James are in good health and doing well. We have of the best of people in our company, and some, too, that are not so good."

Wednesday, June 17, 1846

"17 and from their wee traveled a Bowt 14 miles and Came to the plat and Crossed over on the west Bank and Camped no timber" [This crossing was also used by T.H. Jefferson, and shown on his map as "Springs Ford."]

In her 1891 memoirs, Virginia Reed described the crossing:  "Antelope and buffalo steaks were the main article on our bill-of-fare for weeks, and no tonic was needed to give zest for the food;  our appetites were a marvel.  Eliza soon discovered that cooking over a camp fire was far different from cooking on a stove or range, but all hands assisted her.  I remember that she had the cream all ready for the churn as we drove into the South Fork of the Platte, and while we were fording the grand old stream she wen on with her work, and made several pounds of butter.  We found no trouble in crossing the Platte, the only danger being quicksand.  The stream being wide, we had to stop the wagon now and then to give our oxen a few moments' rest."


Crossing of the Platte River (This is the Upper Crossing, above where the Donners crossed)


Bryant describes the springs and the crossing in his journal: "We reached the ford of the Platte about two o'clock P.M., and ascertained by an examination that, although the river was still rising, our wagons could pass over without much difficulty. While waiting at the river for our party to come up, I discovered, a short distance above where the trail enters the stream to cross it, a large spring of cold water, strongly impregnated with iron, and slightly with sulphur. I drank freely of the water of this spring during the afternoon, and found its effects upon me beneficial. .... Our wagons were all passed safely over the river before sunset, and event thought to be worthy of general congratulation. The stream was rising rapidly; and when so high that it cannot be forded, owing to the absence of timber, it forms an impassible barrier to the progress of emigrant parties." In fact, the crossing point shifted depending on the level of the river.

In a letter dated June 28, Charles Stanton wrote to his brother Sidney about the crossing of the Platte: "We travelled up the south fork four or five miles, when we crossed that stream, which was done not without some little difficulty, it being at this place nearly a mile wide, and deeper than usual, owing to the late rains. We arrived at the ford about the middle of the afternoon, and by sun-down the wagons were all over, the water in many places coming above the wagon beds."

Thursday, June 18, 1846

"18 and from their wee traveled a Bout 10 miles and Camped on the plat where the Road leaves the plat no timber"

The Russell Party, and also Jefferson, traveled along the north bank of the South Fork of the Platte, following the course of present Highway 30 from near Paxton to Brule. The present-day marking of the Oregon Trail shows the Trail on the south bank at this point, using the so-called "Lower Crossing" and climbing California Hill, near Brule, Nebraska. The swale of this Trail can be seen today at O'Fallon's Bluff off of Interstate 80, and at California Hill.  In later years, the Overland Trail was established through Colorado, which left the Oregon and California Trail at the Upper Crossing near Julesburg, Colorado, and met up with the Trail at Bridger's Fort.


O'Fallon's Bluff


In his letter of June 28, Charles Stanton described the country: "The next day we travelled up the south fork ten miles and encamped. This is a most beautiful stream. There are no islands in it as in the Platte--the bluffs are smooth--the bottom lands from three to five miles wide, gently sloping down to the water's edge."

On this day, the Russell Party engaged in another exercise in democracy, as described by Bryant: "This evening, ... Colonel Russell, who has been suffering for several days from an attack of bilious fever, tendered his resignation of the office of captain of our party. .... The other subordinate officers then resigned their places. These were Messrs. Kirkendall, Donner, Jacob and West. .... Mr. F. West was afterwards appointed captain pro tem., and the meeting adjourned."

Meanwhile, back on the Trail, the Smith Company, which included the Graves family, encountered "Indian troubles."  According to William Graves in his 1877 article "Crossing the Plains in '46:"  "we got along smoothly until within about fifty miles of Scott's Bluffs; here we found some real Pawnee Indians, or they found us, and stole some of our cattle and killed two men;  one of them, Wm. Trimble, left a wife and two or three children."  [Actually, only one man was killed, Edward Trimble of Henry County, Iowa, and he left a widow and four children.  The other man, Harrison, was rescued by two other members of the Party, as reported in the St. Louis Revile of July 2, 1846.]

Friday, June 19, 1846

"19 and from their wee traveled a Bout 18 miles and Came to a fine Spring and timber plenty and from their wee traveled a Bout 2 miles and Camped near the plat" [This crossing from the South Fork to the North Fork of the Platte was another of the "dry crossings" that the emigrants were forced to make.]

Miller's "fine Spring" is the famous Ash Hollow at the end of the dry crossing. In his letter of June 28, Charles Stanton described it: "From this point the road leaves the river and runs to the north fork. A distance of fifteen miles brought us to "Ash Hollow," one of the most remarkable places we had seen on our route. The level prairie over which we had trvavelled nearly all day, suddenly sank down into a deep gorge. It was a wild dell, .... For five miles our wagons wound around among hills and steep declivities to a little spring, half a mile from the north fork. Here we stopped to enjoy a refreshing draught of water after the fatigues of the day, ...."


The Descent into Ash Hollow Today (with reconstructed wagon)


McKinstry also described the crossing and the log cabin at Ash Hollow: "the road across from the South to the North fork is high barren prarillon five miles next the north fork is "ash hollow" the most wild barren pass that I ever saw a few scattering ash trees along the bottom the hills verry steep at the mouth of the hollow next the river we found a small log building put up by some Mackinaw boat men last winter as they were caught by the ice it is called "ash hollow Hotel" we found Memorandums of all the emigrating parties that have passed this spring I found a card from my self from Woodworth U.S.N left on the 8th" McKinstry meant that the card was to him, from Passed Midshipman Selim E. Woodworth. Both McKinstry and Woodworth would play important roles in the Donner Relief Parties the next year, McKinstry as the Sheriff at Sutter's Fort, and Woodworth as the commander of the advanced base camp at Bear Valley.

Located on US Highway 26 outside Lewellen, Nebraska. Ash Hollow State Park preserves the fine spring at the end of the dry crossing from the South Fork. You can follow the wagon scars down the steep Windlass Hill, and reach the refreshing spring at the bottom, the first water the Emigrants reached since leaving the South Fork of the Platte.

Saturday, June 20, 1846

"20 and from their wee traveled up the plat a Bout 18 mills and Camped near the plat"

Sunday, June 21, 1846

"21 and from their wee traveled up the plat a Bowt 12 miles and Camped near the plat By a fine Spring no timber, off to the left of the Spring on the Bluffs is a Beautiful pine ridge the first that i have Seen on the Rout" [This ridge is near the present Pumpkin Creek southeast of Bridgeport, Nebraska.]

George McKinstry recorded in his diary a brief meeting with a family that would join the Donner Party: "Started at 7 O'Clock passed McCutcheons co 3 miles from our camp"

Monday, June 22, 1846

"22 and from their wee traveled up the plat a Bowt 20 miles and Camped near the Court-house on the Plat" [You can see this large rock at Court House State Historic Site, off Nebraska Highway 92 near Bridgeport.]


Courthouse Rock, as drawn by James F. Wilkins in 1849.


Tuesday, June 23, 1846

"23 and from their wee traveled up the plat a Bowt 10 miles and Came to the Chimney Rock and from their wee traveled a Bowt 8 miles and Camped near the plat" [You can follow hiking trails to this famous landmark at Chimney Rock National and State Historic Sites, off US Highway 26 near Bayard, Nebraska.]


Chimney Rock



In his letter of June 28, 1846, Charles Stanton wrote to his brother Sidney about these rock formations: "About 10 A.M. the Chimney Rock was discovered, some forty miles distant. I saw it. It looked like a small spire, standing out in bold relief against the sky. Two days more we reached this celebrated rock, and arrived to it about noon. Its height was variously estimated by our guessing company, from two to eight hundred feet. I suppose it to be three hundred feet high. It is round, gently sloping up, and coming to a point at the base of the chimney, 250 feet; then the chimney commences rising in an oblong square, of 10 by 20 feet, 100 feet more. Yesterday we passed a greater curiosity in my view than this; some called it the Court House, others the Fortress, and others the Castle Tower. .... In traveling up the river to Fort Laramie, I have remarked that their knobs, or hills, or bluffs, or whatever else they may be called, are only to be found on one side of the river at at time, .... This was the case before reaching the "court house," but here they suddenly jumped across the stream, and the first building we saw, was the immense mass on the tops of the bluffs, 200 feet above the river. There it stood, solitary and alone, in solemn grandeur."

Wednesday, June 24, 1846

"24 and from their wee traveled a Bowt 10 miles and Came to Scotts Bluffs and from their wee traveled a Bout 7 miles and Camped near Fremonts spring Betuen the divideing Ridge" [This spring is in Robidoux Pass, the original trail through Scotts Bluff. In 1851, the emigrants opened Mitchell Pass further north.]


Robidoux Pass and Scotts Bluff



You can visit Scott's Bluff National Monument located three miles west of Gering, Nebraska, on US Highway 26. Scott's Bluff rises 800 feet above the California and Oregon Trail. A short trail from the museum leads not to the Donner's route, but to the Mitchell Pass Trail used after 1851. A deep swale marks the Mitchell Pass Trail. To see the Donner's route, hike to Robidoux Pass several miles to the south where then, as now, the trail was a faint trace.

Thursday, June 25, 1846

"25 and from their we traveled a Bowt 10 miles and Came to horse Creek, and from their we traveled a Bowt 6 miles and Camped near the Plat"

Friday, June 26, 1846

"26 and from their wee traveled a Bowt 16 miles and Camped near fort Benard on the plat"

Saturday, June 27, 1846

"27 and from their we traveled up the plat a Bout 8 miles and came to lairome River near where it Empties in to the north plat and traveled up it a Bout a mile and Crossed Over to fort lairome and Camped" [In 1846, Fort Laramie (officially Fort John) was a fur trading post, not a US Army fort. It was built in 1841 to replace the earlier Fort William trading post.]

On this day, George Donner wrote a letter to a friend in Springfield: "We arrived here on yesterday without meeting any serious accident. Our company are in good health. Our road has been through a sandy country, but we have as yet had plenty of grass for our cattle and water. .... Two hundred and six lodges of Sioux are expected at the Fort to-day on the way to join the warriors on the war against the Crows. The Indians all speak friendly to us. Two braves breakfasted with us. Their ornaments were tastefully arranged, consistiing of beads, feathers, and a fine shell that is got from California, bark variously colored and arranged, and the hair from the scalps they have taken in battle. .... Our provisions are in good order, and we feel satisfied with our preparations for the trip."

In her 1891 memoirs, Virginia Reed described the Sioux:  "At Fort Laramie was a party of Sioux, who were on the war path going to fight the Crows or Blackfeet. The Sioux are fine looking Indians and I was not in the least afraid of them.  They fell in love with my pony and set about bargaining to buy him.  They brought buffalo robes and beautifully tanned buckskin, pretty beaded moccasins, and ropes made of grass, and placing these articles in a heap alongside several of their ponies, they made my father understand by signs that they would give them all for Billy and his rider.  Papa smiled and shook his head; then the number of ponies was increased  and, as a last tempting inducement, they brought an old coat, that had been worn by some poor soldier, thinking my father could not withstand the brass buttons!"

At Fort Laramie the Reeds and Donners received their first warning about Hastings' Cutoff. James Clyman had traveled from California with Lansford Hastings over the Cutoff. Clyman left Hastings at Bridger's Fort on June 7 and continued east. He reached Fort Laramie on June 27, where, as recorded in his diary, "we met Ex governor Boggs and party from Jackson county Missourie Bound for California and we camped with them several of us continued the conversation untill a late hour." On July 29, Clyman arrived in St. Louis, where he allowed the Missouri Republican to publish a summary of his diary in the July 30 edition.  The paper "could not follow the traveler on his way, but must content ourselves with his conclusion as to the practicability of the route.  Mr. Clymer is of opinion that it is very little nearer to California, and not so good a road as that by Fort Hall."

In 1878, Clyman told Ivan Petroff about this conversation: "Had known mr Reed previously in the Sauk war ... Mr Reed, while we were encamped at Laramie was enquiring about the route. I told him to 'take the regular wagon track and never leave it--it is barely possible to get through it if you follow it--and it may be impossible if you don't.' Reed replied, 'There is a nigher route, and it is of no use to take so much of a roundabout course.' I admitted the fact, but told him about the great desert and the roughness of the Sierras, and that a straight route might turn out to be impracticable.'"

You can visit Fort Laramie National Historic Site south of US Highway 26 across the North Platte River from Fort Laramie, Wyoming. An excellent museum and living history exhibit, the Fort includes two buildings from 1849, plus other restored buildings to recreate the Fort as it appeared to the Forty-Niners and later travelers. In 1846, the Fort was a trading post of the American Fur Company, and a simpler adobe structure. You can hike from the Fort to see the ruts of the Trail and emigrant graves.

Sunday, June 28, 1846

"28 and from their we traveled up the Lariome fork a Bowt 2 miles and Camped"

Monday, June 29, 1846

"29 and from their we traveled a Bowt 16 miles and Camped on willow Creek timber" [The camp was on Cottonwood Creek, near present Guernsey State Park, Wyoming. Ruts from the Trail are visible at the park.]


Trail Ruts near Guernsey, Wyoming

(c) William E. Hill


Tuesday, June 30, 1846

"30 and from their we traveled a Bowt 14 miles and Camped near a Spring on the Rood and Bout Eight miles from Lariomes peak"


Laramie Peak drawn by James Wilkins, 1849



McKinstry recorded in his diary another change in leadership: "Capt Boggs just resigned" John Breen, in his 1877 Pioneer Memoirs recalled that "At one time the company consisted of about 1500 souls under the command of Col. Russel but after getting through what was called the Souix country the company began to break up it being too large on account of food and water."

In a letter dated July 5, Charles Stanton wrote to his brother Sidney: "We left our encampment at the Fort on Sunday, and went up the Laramie Fork two miles and encamped, .... I wrote the other half of my letter to you . But I did not finish it till the next morning and even then, not until our company had left. I waited behind over an hour to finish it. ... The last of the wagons had long since disappeared behind the hills ... and I alone was trudging on foot to overtake the wagons. I soon reached the main road, where I beheld it lined with Indians on horseback, coming back from the wagons which they had accompanied a considerable distance on their journey, for the purpose of securing what presents they could obtain and swapping horses. ... I was soon surrounded by ten or a dozen Souix. ... They all rode up and shook me, by the hand, and wanted something which I could not understand. One or two drew their knives across their throats. This struck me as not being a very pleasant amusement, especially if they were to amuse themselves in this manner on me. I finally presented them with a few pieces of tobacco, which they gladly acceptedf, and rode off seemingly well pleased. ... On coming up with the wagons, I found that the Oregon company had joined us. Since they left us, three marriages had taken place, and one or two more were on the tapis. We were all glad to see each other after our long separation, and good feeling seemed to reign throughout. We had not travelled far before we commenced the ascent of the Black Hills, and had a fine view of Laramie's Peak--the highest in the range."


The Black Hills, drawn by James Wilkins in 1849


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