August 8, 1853
Location: Fort John/Laramie - 508 m. left, Wyoming - Location: 42:12:46N 104:31:00W Elevation: 4250 feet (Fort lays about 1-1/2 miles west from the river. Ford is good in low water. River 108 yards wide. Wall and houses are adobe, or Spanish brick. Altitude, 4,090 feet) -522 miles from Winter Quarters
Summary: Letter to John Coupe describing the Armitstead journey, June 29 to August 8.
Journal entry: Fort Laramie, August 8, 1853
Beloved Brother. The great distance and the long silence which has intervened between us, makes us feel anxious to hear from you; and, no doubt, you feet the same with respect to us. I sent a lengthy letter to E. Holden a few weeks ago; and one to Blackburn the other day with a request that they be forwarded to you.
We still fondly cherish the remembrance of your lovely faces, and the many acts of kindness which you have shown us, and though, like the morn when her light is obscured, your dear faces are hid from us, we still entertain the fond hope of seeing you again. What! do I mean to write you to come to this country? Certainly, I do. But, if you had the same object in view which we have, you would need no invitation. We wish it distinctly understood that we do not regret coming to this country. If we had our lives to live over again we should be able, in that respect, to do as we have done. Though, as the song says, we have long time been traveling, and, of course, we long to be at home. A few words respecting our present journey may not be amiss.
It is said, "Every condition produces some comfort." And again it is said, "None can lead a life without ( ) must taste the mingled cup of sorrow mixed with joy."
In this journey, we realize the truthfulness of these sayings. It affords many comforts, and at the same time, it brings with it some things which are not very comfortable. But, considering all the circumstances, we plod along very well. The health of the camp is good at this point. We have had some sickness. Two died of scarlet fever at Loupe Fork. Our cattle are in excellent condition. We average about 100 miles per week. Our road, at present, lays along the Platt River on level bottom with exception of a few sand hills here and there. The river bottom averages about 10 or 12 miles wide from bluff to bluff. It appears to me that the river has, at some time, covered the entire bottom. Beyond the cliffs on each side [of] the river, the country is very uneven, in fact a real wilderness, wild and romantic. For 200 miles on this north side of the river, there is not a tree to be seen. At a place 239 miles from the Missouri River, there is the greatest spring of good water I ever saw. There are a number of very singularly formed bluffs known by various names such as Scott's Bluff, Bluff Ruins, Chimney Rock, etc.
These plains, as they are called, are characterized by some of the severest storms of wind, rain, thunder, and lightening I ever witnessed. It does not feel very agreeable to turn out in the middle of the night, to stand guard, in some of these storms.
250 miles west of the Mo. R. [Missouri River] there is a grave, the head board of which bears the following inscription, "James Fast, native of London, and late of St. Louis, killed on guard, supposed to be by Indians. June 27."
We also passed the graves of two young men who were killed by the lightening on the 12th of June 1853.
The Indians have not troubled us, as a camp. We were visited, July 29, by a hunting party of Souix Indians. They were very friendly. We traded some with them. We gave them bread, crackers, sugar, milk, coffee, and molasses. In return, they gave us skins, moccasins (shoes made of deer skin and decorated with beads). They shot a buffalo just as we came to our noon halt, and we had the pleasure of seeing them cut it up, which only occupied about 15 minutes, and they perfectly dissected it, separating the flesh from the bones, and eating of it all the time: they eat the tripe, washing it in the blood. The men were nearly naked, but them women were well covered with skins. They rode on horseback just like the men, astride.
I was lead to compare these uncivilized American savages, as they are called, with my white civilized brethren and sisters in England; physically, I mean. The contrast is very great indeed...
I will now relate an incident or two which has occurred since I wrote the above.
In the letter which I sent to E. Holden, from Winter Quarters, I gave an accounting of a stampede (run away) that we had. Since then we had two more. One on Saturday the 30th of July, and another on Wednesday the 3rd of August. The cause of them may be attributed, in great measure, the inexperience and carelessness of the teamsters. Though, I must say that, our animals are very easily frightened. On one occasion, the jingling of a stove behind a wagon started them. And, at another time, they were started by a man kicking a snake alongside of them. I do not much wish to trouble you with a discription of those painful scenes, and the perilous situations in which we were placed.
However, I will briefly state our own situations in both those occasions that you may form an idea of the condition of the whole train. It so happened at both times we were in the middle of the train. And the rear teams started first. So, by the time they reached us, they presented, the whole train seemed to be in the wildest commotion. On the first of these occasions, I had taken only two or three leaps with my team, when I was surrounded, one team coming in upon me on the off-side and two on the nigh-side. One of the teams on the nigh-side ran into my team, they ran together in this way about ten rods. I had seven spokes broke in my wagon, about thirty other wagons were more or less broke, but no person was injured.
The last time, my team did not seem to feel like running, although they did finally make out to run a little when I succeeded in stopping them, which were no sooner done than I tried to start them again, for I saw a team coming upon me, and which did finally upset my wagon; and while in this condition, I saw another team coming in direct line of it, but was stopped a few paces from it; I then jumped to my team and unhitched them from the wagon, and sprang to the rescue of my family.
Little Sarah Jane was just creeping out, and Margaret Ann and her mother were buried in the luggage. I soon freed them, when, Margaret Ann said calmly, "Father, is something the matter?" She was slightly bruised. Her mother received a black eye in the scrape. No one were seriously hurt this time.
We are all well now, and moving along finely. You may expect to hear from us again soon.
Our love to you all.
James and M. Armitstead
Source: James Armitstead Letters (1853)