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California-Oregon Trail Diary

Identifier: MSN/EA 8014
California-Oregon Trail diary
California-Oregon Trail diary

Scope and Contents

An 1850 overland diary recording an emigrant's passage from Dubuque, Iowa to the Salt Lake Cutoff. The diary is a small volume of 11 cm., written entirely in pencil, with 54 leaves and 104 pages of manuscript. Its narrative runs to around 6000 words, with regular entries from 25 March (and the emigrants' departure from Dubuque, south of Clayton County on the Mississippi) to 19 July (when the volume concludes with the party at the northern end of the Salt Lake Cutoff, on the present-day Utah-Idaho border). No subsequent volume is present, or known. The emigrants' route took them across Iowa to Council Bluffs on the Missouri, and thence along the north side of the Platte and North Platte Rivers (the Council Bluffs Road) to Fort Laramie, the Sweetwater River and South Pass in modern Wyoming (reached on 24 June). At South Pass the party followed the trail's southern fork to Salt Lake City, and the Salt Lake Cutoff. Six loosely sketched maps appended to the narrative (pp. 92-97) suggest that the party proceeded to the Humboldt River (called Mary's River, p. 92) and on to California.

The narrative provides ample description of the trail and conditions thereon, as well as many other circumstances of the journey. Typically, overland diary texts limit themselves to the basic facts of travel—miles achieved, routes taken, river crossings, the availability of wood, water and forage, landmarks, other parties encountered. One reason for recording this information was to facilitate the passage west for those who followed. 1850 was one of the peak years for overland travel—an estimated 44,000 went to California alone, mainly to the gold fields—and emigrants found the trails unexpectedly crowded. The volume also includes the aforementioned maps and other non-narrative material.


  • Creation: 1850

Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

In the two decades before the Civil War an estimated 250,000 persons emigrated westward across the North American continent to the Pacific Coast. The first-person accounts written en route—generically called overland diaries—are a distinctive form of American travel narrative. This unpublished 1850 diary is entitled: "A Driscription / of the Rout to / California and & / By / A Company of four / Jas. W. Simmons / Geo. W. Stout / A. Baker / Mat. Peck / from Clanton [Clayton] County / Iowa Who Started / on the 25th of March / 1850 / With 2 Waggins and / Seven horses" (p. v). The author cannot be identified with certainty, but was likely either James W. Simmons or Albert Matthew Peck (Stout and Baker are mentioned in the third person on p. 6). Simmons (b. ca. 1821) was an Ohio native who was settled in Los Angeles County by 1879. Peck (1821-1902), also an Ohio native, was living in Nevada County, California in 1852 and in Sierra County in 1860; by 1880 he, too, was settled in Los Angeles County. A later note on p. i attributing the diary to a Henry Hubbard is inconsistent with the title inscription. The author was literate but not overly educated, as his spelling is idiosyncratic throughout.


1 volume

Language of Materials



An 1850 overland diary recording an emigrant's passage from Dubuque, Iowa to the Salt Lake Cutoff.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The diary was purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2013, from Michael Brown Rare Books of Philadelphia (List 123, part 2, item 36).

Related Materials

The California-Oregon Trail diary is featured in the digital exhibit "The Power of my Pen to Describe: Ten American Diaries, 1750-1900"

Physical Description

1 volume, 11 cm., 54 leaves, with 104 pages of manuscript entries.

George Rugg
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556