Desert Quotes

All of the quotes in this room are listed below. Where available, we've provided you with additional information about the source of the quote and possible links to download or access the original source material. The quotes are listed in the order in which you might encounter them in the room.

Excerpt from Eleazar Stillman Ingalls' Diary

“The desert! You must see it and feel it in an August day, when legions have crossed it before you, to realize it in all its horrors. But heaven save you from the experience.”

The excerpt above is quoted twice within the Trail Center (also in the Jumping Off Town) and in the outdoor plaza. It is from Eleazar Stillman Ingalls' Journal of a Trip to California by the Overland Route Across the Plains in 1850-51. The book is currently out of print and available through book collectors and libraries (including the library at the CTIC). A small portion of it (but not the one with this quote) can also be downloaded from the OCTA website. The entire text can be accessed on Project Gutenberg.

The edition in the photo above was published by Ingalls' daughter, Josephine S. Ingalls Sawyer. She writes, "The manuscript with this, relating to a journey made by my father, E.S Ingalls, from Illinois to California in 1850, is beyond doubt the original record kept by him. I knew of it as a child and often heard my father and mother speak of it as The account of his trip written as he went along. It was given to me by my mother more than twenty-five years ago. She had always treasured it as one of her choicest keepsakes after my father's death in 1879.... He was a pioneer nearly all his life. When a boy of eighteen, he came from Nashua, New Hampshire to Lake County, Illinois, much of the way on foot... My father, in company with other drivers, brought the cattle through. Many times their way, especially through Indiana and Illinois had to be cut through trackless wilderness and swamps, where roads had to be cut for their ox teams to traverse."

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Excerpt from William G. Johnston's diary entry for July 16, 1849

“As if in cruel mockery to torture us whilst thus already suffering sufficiently, again and again mirages arose, deceiving with their pleasing enchantments.” – William G. Johnston, July 16, 1849

William G. Johnston and Company, founded in 1857, was a well known Pittsburgh printing and book-binding firm in the late 1800s and early 1900s. William G. Johnston, the son of a prominent Pittsburgh printer was born August 22, 1828. He attended the Western University of Pennsylvania (now, the University of Pittsburgh) before organizing a party to head to California during the 1849 gold rush. In 1857, Johnston founded the William G. Johnston and Company at Wood St. and Second Ave. and later erected a new building at 900 Penn Ave. and Ninth St., Pittsburgh, to house the company. Johnston died on June 1, 1913.

William G. Johnston's memoir Experiences of a Forty-Niner: a member of the wagon train first to enter California in the memorable year 1849 can be viewed at HathiTrust.

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Excerpt from David Hindman's book

“There were two roads across this desert, one to Truckee River, the other to Carson River. We took the latter.” – David R. Hindman, 1849

David Hindman's book The Way to My Golden Wedding was published in 1908. An excerpt, from which the image above was taken, can be viewed at Schuyler County, Illinois HIstory website.

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William Franklin's July 2, 1850 diary entry

“Today we bid a final adieu to the nauseating Mary River. Never again so I desire to see its poisoning waters, miserable sloughs, parched valleys and bare painful looking mountains.” – William Franklin, 1850

The Journal of William Riley Franklin to California from Missouri in 1850 was published in the Spring of 1974 in the Annals of Wyoming by the Wyoming State Archives and Historical Department. It can be viewed and downloaded

from the Internet Archive.

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Excerpt from Clark's August 18 entry

“About ten miles out the dead teams of ’49 and ’50 were seen scattered here and there upon the road. Very soon, however, they became more frequent and in a little while filled the entire roadside; mostly oxen, with here and there a horse and once in a while a mule. Wagons, wagon irons, ox chains, harness, rifles, and indeed all the paraphernalia of an emigrant’s “outfit” lay scattered along this notorious route, reminding one of the defeat of some great army.” – John Hawkins Clark, August 18, 1852

Clark's diary, as published by the Kansas Historical Society, is available on Hathitrust. It can also be viewed as a web page at the Kansas Collection.

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“It was to be an all-night trek. It might have well been named ‘Death’s trail,’ for as we followed the winding trail through the sage-brush, we saw white bones and carcasses of various animals.” – Henrietta Catherine McDaniel, 1853

Henrietta Catherine Kate Furnell McDaniel's diary was published as From the Prairie to the Pacific, A Narrative: Of a Trip Across the Plains of a Family From Illinois With a Covered Wagon and Oxen Team in 1853 by the Association for Northern California Historical Research. No electronic access was located for this reference.

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Diary entry of Lucena Parsons, May 20, 1851

“Here we find hundreds of dead animals & lots of stoves and all kinds of iron works where the emigrants lightened their wagons to take on grass & water.” – Lucena Parsons, May 20, 1851

The Parsons family began their journey to California in the spring of 1850. However, they reached Salt Lake City late enough in the summer that they chose to spend the winter there and set out from there by way of the Hensley cutoff for California in the spring of 1851.

Lucena's diary is reprinted in the Covered Wagon Women Series, vol. 2, and may be available for purchase in the CTIC gift shop.

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“All are now busily preparing to cross the desert; some are over-hauling their goods and casting away everything that is deemed useless.” – John F. Riker, 1852

John Riker's diary was self-published in 1855 as Journal of a Trip to California, by the Overland Route: Containing All the Principal Incidents of the Journey; Also a Description of the Country, Soil, Climate, and the Principal Streams and Rivers. No electronic access was located for this reference.

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Excerpt from Chapter 2 of Luzena Wilson's memoir

“It was a hard march over the desert. The men were tired out goading on the poor oxen which seemed ready to drop at every step. They were covered with a thick coating of dust, even to the red tongues which hung from their mouths swollen with thirst and heat.” – Luzena Stanley Wilson, 1849

Luzena Stanley Wilson's '49er memories were recalled

years later for her daughter Correnah Wilson Wright and published in 1937. It can be downloaded from the collection of the Library of Congress.

Luzena Wilson (b. ca. 1821) came to California from Missouri with her husband and two children in 1849. The family first settled in Sacramento, where they kept a hotel. After the Sacramento flood of 1849, they moved to a mining camp, where Mrs. Wilson ran another hotel until 1851, when the Wilsons journeyed to their new farm near modern Vacaville. Her memoir contains reminiscences of her overland journey and early years in California dictated to her daughter in 1881.

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“Now methinks I see the elephant with unclouded eyes!” – Joseph Warren Wood, 1849

No electronic access was located for this reference.

September 4 entry from Sallie Hester's 1849 diary

“Just at dawn, in the distance, we had a glimpse of Truckee River, and with it the feeling: Saved at last! Poor cattle; they kept on mooing, even when they stood knee deep in water. The long dreaded desert has been crossed and we are all safe and well.” – Sallie Hester, September 4, 1849

The diary of Sallie Hester, a young teenage girl, is reprinted as a stand-alone children's book and also part of the Covered Wagon Women Series (volume 1 and "Best of" volume 2). Any of these books may be available in the CTIC gift shop for purchase.

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