Luzena’s Big Adventure

In honor of Women’s History Month, I am going to recycle a series of posts I did five years ago, with a bit of expansion and augmentation.

These are the adventures of Luzena Stanley Wilson, overland pioneer. Her account 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.

Luzena was thirty years old, living in a log cabin in Andrew County, Missouri, when news of the California gold discovery swept the nation.

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,” she says. 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.

Quotations are taken from “My Checkered Life: Luzena Stanley Wilson in Early California” edited by Fern Henry

So Luzena and her husband make the decision to go, Saturday they pack up bedding and cooking utensils and food in their wagon, and Monday they are off. Just like that. For two years they had lived on their homestead, making improvements and trying to get ahead. Now they leave it all behind, not even trying to sell it. After all, there is a their fortune waiting for them in California.

Would you do it?

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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1 Response to Luzena’s Big Adventure

  1. Jodie Dillman says:

    I would not have done it, I’m sorry to say. I would have been like many women, waiting at home for the good news to arrive, that I should come out to California to meet my husband and see our good fortune. That would have had a sad ending.

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