Update: In the previous blog the Frinks left Martinsville, Indiana on the 27th of March, 1850. Two months later they began their trek westward along the Platte River over the prairies of Nebraska.
May 21, 1850, traveling the south bank of the Platte River west of Fort Kearney.
“This morning some of the men in our company spotted a small herd of buffalo nearby and began to chase after them on horseback. When they returned Mr. Frink gave the men a harsh reprimand for exhausting the horses.” Even though it was bad for the horses, Mrs. Frink confessed she could not blame the men for the wanting the thrill of a chase. “The animation and excitement of the moment beat anything I ever saw, and I would not for anything have missed the sight of that great chase over that grand plain. Someone brought us a piece of buffalo steak, so we were not without a share of the prize.”
As they progressed on the plains, Margaret observed that, “Our chief inconvenience here is the want of firewood. There is no timber except the few cottonwoods and willows along the river. It often happens that we find hardly enough to cook our meals. Mr. Frink adopted the plan of gathering up all fragments of wood and hauling them with us until time of need.”
Margaret Frink occasionally wrote on the amount of work involved each day when they camped. Wagons, harness, and clothing all show signs of wear and tear, and whenever they stopped, especially an all-day stop on Sunday, many of these items must be mended. Also animals must be changed and guarded and “innumerable small things must looked after.”
“Our organization has fallen to pieces. Those who were in so much of a hurry have driven ahead reducing our number to about twenty-five. Mr. Frink feels the only sure way to get to California with our animals still alive was to drive slowly.” Also the Frinks “found it best to travel in small parties on account of the scarcity of grass and water.”
River crossings are full of danger and required great care. At one point Margaret Frink described her anxiety while crossing the Platte River.
Of all the excitements I have ever experienced the crossing
of the river was the greatest. …mule teams, horse teams,
ox teams, men on horseback, men wading and struggling
against the quicksands and current, many of them with long
poles in their hands feeling their way. Sometimes they would
be in shallow water only up to their knees; then suddenly
some unlucky one would plunge into four feet of water.
…Our horses would sometimes be in water no more than
afoot deep; then in a moment they would go down to their
collars. …when some wagons crowded in front of us during
a crossing we were compelled to stop for several minutes.
Our wagon at once began to settle and it took four men to
assist the horses to pull out. Where we crossed, the river
was a mile wide, and we were three-quarters of an hour
getting over. We are now nine-hundred miles from home.
A few days after their river crossing, word came to the group that the grass was all burned off ahead of them. The fretful Mrs. Frink feared there would be nothing for the horses to eat. “What is to become of us…we are unable to go either forward or backward?” As often happened on the trail, this dilemma was based on a believable but untrue rumor. Nevertheless the incident illustrates just how much was at risk every day on the trail.
Margaret writes of passing a Sioux village of about seventy tents. They came to the wagon train in a very friendly manner with food to trade. Mrs. Frink gave them a supply of needles and thread and some small mirrors. In trade she got fresh fish, buffalo, and antelope meat.
On the next day their wagon train passed an important landmark for migrants—Courthouse Rock. The following day she reported seeing Chimney Rock in the distance ahead of them. She remarked that Chimney Rock was six miles away, but the air was so clear it seemed no more than a mile. These two famous landmarks are about twenty miles apart on the Platte River. Like hundreds of other migrants, Mr. Frink carved both their names on Chimney Rock.
The Frinks progressed to Fort Laramie, now in eastern Wyoming, which had been purchased by the U.S. government from the American Fur Company. She noted the fort was bound by adobe walls fifteen feet high and 180 feet long on each side. Margaret wrote that this would the last outpost until they reached Fort Hall, about 500 miles farther west in present day Idaho. Mrs. Frink apparently had one of the available trail guidebooks from which she often quotes their exact distance traveled, the distance yet to go, their elevation, and occasionally the latitude and longitude of their location.
In early June an accident occurred which caused much grief for Mrs. Frink. Her cherished sheet-iron stove, mentioned in the previous blog, was tied securely on the rear of their wagon, and she used it every day. Suddenly her good cookstove became a piece of junk. Surprisingly she wrote in a very understated tone considering how enraged she might have been. “Some careless person, in a hurry, drove his team up too close behind, and the pole of his wagon ran into the stove, smashing it and ruining it.” After that each day the Frinks had to dig a small fire trench and cook on the ground with her cooking pots set over it. She commented, “we found it a very good substitute for a stove.”
The Frinks’ wagon train finally left the Platte River after following it until it turned abruptly south. They had a fifty-mile dry run toward the Sweetwater River which would take them to South Pass, the low and easy route over the
Rocky Mountains. The gap between the two rivers was covered with pools of alkali water, dried ponds crusted with salt or soda several inches thick, some sagebrush, but no grass. “The horses and our wagon wheels broke through the crust with each step as if it were ice.” The salt crust slowed their progress to a crawl. During this bad stretch of land a mid-June snowstorm blew in, “At dark while I was cooking supper a heavy storm of wind and snow came up. There was no shelter and we ate our supper while it was snowing and blowing” The next day was bright and sunny. “We snowballed each other till ten o’clock…”
Another day’s travel brought them to another major landmark on the trail, Independence Rock—a dome-shaped feature about one-third of a mile long and 130 feet high. Several years earlier a party of immigrants happened to pass this site on the Fourth of July and so named this massive granite rock rising from a flat plain. The massive rock became a record of immigrant names with “hundreds of names painted with black paint made of gunpowder and bacon grease.”
In late June a man named Mr. Avery became impatient with the rate of progress. Mr. Avery felt he could get to California sooner on foot than by going at the plodding rate of the wagons. He took as much food, blankets, and clothing as he could strap on his back and started alone toward California (1500 miles ahead) - with hope and a great amount of pluck. One might say dumb pluck! Margaret Frink made no further mention of Mr. Avery in her diary, but one can guess several possible outcomes for him. There is little likelihood that Avery could finish the trek alone, perhaps he eventually gave up and joined another wagon train. The other possible outcomes are more dire: starvation, thirst, exhaustion, or capture.
On June 24th the Frinks finally reached the famous South Pass and crossed the Continental Divide. The approach to South Pass is a long gentle slope and the divide is “so much like a prairie that it is not easy to tell when we reached the exact line of the divide.” At the summit an American flag was flying to mark the private post office established by James Estelle so immigrants could send letters to family and friends back home. This small post office along with Fort Kearny and Fort Laramie were the only outposts of the United States west of Omaha. Margaret again expressing her feeling of separation and loneliness wrote, “to see the old flag once more strongly reminded us of home.” The Frink’s group decided to celebrate their arrival at the Great Divide. “Music from a violin with tin-pan accompaniment contributed to the general merriment of a grand frolic.” Perhaps they danced to the violin/tin-pan combo and drank a toast with their stash of cider. That afternoon Margaret wrote letters to friends which the postmaster sent back to the States by the next messenger. Margaret had to pay $1.00 each to send her letters. One dollar in 1850 is estimated to be equivalent to $33.37 today—a dear price for a letter.
The next day they “began the long descent to the Pacific Ocean 1,433 miles away.”
TO BE CONTINUED