May 22, 1997
Summary: Pam is an English lady on the wagon train. She wrote the following entry on Day 27.
Journal entry: Pam Wilkinson writes:
Day 27 of the MORMON TRAIL WAGON TRAIN in America, and I have survived!
Let me give you an idea of what a day on the trail is like. A rude awakening at 4:30 a.m. as the Camp Jack walks around the camp with a cowbell! Who needs an alarm clock! Sit up in your tiny tent and reluctantly undo the cords of your sleeping bag, one around a snug hood and one around the shoulders, to keep all that lovely warm air in. The air is cold, below freezing on several mornings, and your tent is frozen inside and out.
It is dark, and your torch batteries don't last long, so you use the torch sparingly. Your tent needs to be well organized inside, so that you can find what you need in the dark. You long ago abandoned nightclothes, and are glad to remove boots, thick socks and outer clothing, and slip into that thick sleeping bag. You wear the same clothes for about three days, and then if you are lucky, you get access to a school shower. Privacy there is usually non-existent - shower becomes much more important than modesty.
Whilst sitting up in your tent with no back support, you pile on more layers, a fleece, hat and sometimes even gloves before regretfully unzipping the sleeping bag fully and emerging into the cold. Then starts the day's biggest struggle! Getting that lovely thick sleeping bag back into its little stuff sack! On your knees, head against the tent roof, and tender feet placed gingerly together, and gradually stuff that long sleeping bag in. Oh what a struggle. Your arm aches, sometimes you feel like crying with frustration. Eventually you get it done and tighten the compression straps. Now roll up the sleeping mat, and you are making progress.
Now on with the boots over those tender feet, and emerge into the dark. People will greet you with "What a lovely morning," when you know jolly well it's still the middle of the night! Now zig zag over to the porta-potties, straining your eyes for dark blobs on the ground which you really don't want to walk in! Horses go anywhere! Sometimes no toilet roll, so it pays to hang on to the napkin from the previous meal. No water to wash hands. Thank goodness for wipes.
You've never camped before, but are now an expert at dismantling your tent and being ready, all two bags packed, by 6 a.m. You gave up eating with the wagon train, because of too many "biscuits and gravy" for breakfast, and not a very balanced diet. Now you eat in a kind friend's motor home, sharing costs. Cramped but manageable.
On to a shuttle bus go your bags, and you have a small daysack for waterproofs, lunch, sunblock etc. and the camera. The wagon train moves out around 7a.m., with the wagon master up front on his splendid biscuit-coloured horse, with a shout of "Wagons roll!" All very "cowboys without the indians" - so far.
The walkers and handcarts fall in after the wagons, but not before "Tennessee John" who drives an ugly people carrier nicknamed "The Coffin" shouts to us walkers "PILGRIMS" as he passes, and we shout back in like manner!
And so out onto the road. Three things about Nebraska have embedded themselves into my mind! The flatness of the land, the ever-present wind, and the mournful honking of the trains. Nebraska has the busiest railway line in the world, and great long trains, mostly well over 100 goods wagons are constantly passing each other, and at every crossing, and often at other times, they honk! How people ever sleep at night I don't know We have heard them everyday, and all through the night. They even feature in my dreams!
Whilst walking through the miles, (we have now covered over 350 miles) you can do several things. You can talk, you can listen, you can sing, or you can think. You meet all sorts of people on a wagon train, from all walks of life, young, old, wise, shallow or witty. You can share experiences. We have three Brits with us, 2 women, 1 man, ALL from Shropshire, a couple from Austria and a family of four from Japan, as well as Americans and Canadians.
We have met with amazing hospitality and friendliness from the people of Nebraska. Each town through which we have passed has "hung out the flags," lined the streets to watch and wave, and call out a welcome. Total strangers will talk to you, and end up taking you to their home for a shower and refreshments.
Ex-patriots will bring Cadbury's creme eggs, English cheese and tomato sandwiches with homemade bread, and try to press other goodies onto you that you just cannot carry. EVERYONE, it seems, has ancestry from somewhere in Britain, and they all want to tell you about it.
As the day wears on, your feet hurt, you are hot, dusty and tired, and your thoughts turn to loved ones at home, and those early pioneers who made this trek. Driven from their homes by envy or prejudice, they seek a freedom to worship, and build a better life for themselves and their children. You marvel at how they coped on this trek with babies and children, animals to look after, meals to cook, and all the other essential tasks to do, in open prairie, few trees in Nebraska then for fuel, and every kind of weather. Frozen in the morning and boiled most afternoons, and of course the WIND!
You gratefully get into camp at the end of the miles, set up tent and crawl in and rest. Time hopefully to record the day's events in a journal, socialize, write letters to loved ones at home. At 8:30p.m. the evening Devotional - a short gathering to hear news, sing pioneer songs and hymns, and ask the Lord's blessings and protection for the night.
I'm glad I'm here. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, but I feel I want to honour and represent all those British Mormon women who made this trek 150 years ago. What faith they had to sustain them. What courage and grit.