The account of Luzena Stanley Wilson is one of the most vivid and charming of all the Gold Rush stories that have come down to us. She told her story to her daughter Correnah in 1881 while Correnah was recovering from an illness, and her daughter later published it. Read this opening and ask yourself if you would have picked up and left everything behind as quickly as the Wilsons did.
The gold excitement spread like wildfire, even out to our log cabin in the prairie, and as we had almost nothing to lose, and we might gain a fortune, we early caught the fever. My husband grew enthusiastic and wanted to start immediately, but I would not be left behind. I thought where he could go I could, and where I went I could take my two little toddling babies. Mother-like, my first thought was of my children. I little realized then the task I had undertaken. If I had, I think I should still be in my log cabin in Missouri. But when we talked it all over, it sounded like such a small task to go out to California, and once there fortune, of course, would come to us.
“It seemed like such a small task.” Just pack up for a summer trip across prairie, mountain and desert. It would be an adventure, and when they arrived “fortune, of course, would come to us.” That’s what all the ’49ers thought, and they couldn’t wait to get to El Dorado.
The Wilsons at the time had two children, Thomas, who was about three years old, and Jay, a baby under one year old. Can you imagine a 6-month long camping trip with two toddlers?
It was the work of but a few days to collect our forces for the march into the new country, and we never gave a thought to selling our section, but left it, with two years’ labor, for the next comer. Monday we were to be off. Saturday we looked over our belongings, and threw aside what was not absolutely necessary. Beds we must have, and something to eat. It was a strange but comprehensive load which we stowed away in our “prairie-schooner”, and some things which I thought necessities when we started became burdensome luxuries, and before many days I dropped by the road-side a good many unnecessary pots and kettles, for on bacon and flour one can ring but few changes, and it requires but few vessels to cook them.
Bread and bacon, bacon and bread, some beans, and coffee — those were the staples of the overland trek. Simple and monotonous.
One luxury we had which other emigrants nearly always lacked—fresh milk. From our gentle “mulley” cow I never parted. She followed our train across the desert, shared our food and water, and our fortunes, good or ill, and lived in California to a serene old age, in a paradise of green clover and golden stubble-fields, full to the last of good works.
A great story Nancy. I truly do not know how they made the trek as a woman, mother, and wife across the country. They were definitely strong woman who wore lots of cumbersome clothes, couldn’t vote, and were expected to be a homemaker extrodinaire. Thank you….
Thank you for the most excellent article. I recently came across your blogs while researching my family connection to John Bidwell. I am slowly working my way through all your posts and I must commend you for all your hard work and research.
My 2nd great grand parents (Isaac and Emily) would have been contemporaries of Mrs. Wilson. He from Missouri and she from Illionis, as they first met during the spring of 1849 while on the trail to California.
Emily’s family was travelling west to be reunited with her older brother and uncle that had emigrated in early 1846 after reading John Bidwell’s glowing accounts of the opportunities in California.
Isaac was a poor farm boy, hired to drive one of the family wagons and help keep the wagons in good repair.
Their ultimate destination was Santa Cruz (where they were married in 1851) as her Uncle Charles had acquired the old Mission’s potrero lands for the family.
Emily’s grandson (my grandfather) was baptized with the middle name Bidwell, his mother’s maiden name. Her branch of the Bidwell family emigrated from Illinois to Lassen County California in the late 1860’s. It turns out the General and I are 3rd cousins (5 times removed). John Bidwell’s 2nd greatgrand parents, John and Sarah (nee Welles) Bidwell of Hartford Connecticut, are my 7th greatgrand parents.
Keep up the good work and thank you for all the insight into my most famous cousin.
Thanks for your comments! You really know your genealogy. The stories of pioneers and emigrants are always fascinating. Thanks for sharing yours with me.
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