The journal of Ezekial Brooks Owens, Part Two

This week we’ll continue sharing the journal that Drew County pioneer Ezekial Owens kept during his trip to the California gold fields in 1850.  You will notice he kept a good record of the land and its features as he traveled.  This is a unique portrait of the westward journeys of the time. Enjoy!

Diary of Ezekial Brooke Owens

1850-May 24th—Struck our tents. Traveled ten miles and nooned. I suffered this day for water. Came into St. Jo road. Camped without wood. Cooked with weeds. Water bad. Tuck broke a hame. (Tuck was probably a horse.)Camped on the head of Mimmehaw. Only three trains in sight; five hundred head of stock. Passed several ox-trains today. Trains almost as far as the eye can reach.

May 25th—Traveled four miles and crossed Wiatt’s Run, a small creek. Passed two new graves. One died of diarrhea, the other shot himself accidentally. Talleyrand sick with diarrhea. The road for the last three or four days is from sixty to eighty yards wide. Met this evening six trading wagons belonging to the American Fur Company, loaded with furs and hides. Camped in a bottom one mile from the road. Visited a large lime kiln built of rocks in which there are three thousand bushels of lime. Supposed to have been done by the government troops from Fort Carney (Kearney?) seventy-five to ninety miles from here. (Possibly the fort used the lime to deodorize wastes, both vegetable and human, at the fort. It could have also been used for tanning hides and other tasks.) Fine grass. Water warm. There is a species of post oak here called Burr oak which bears a very large acorn; some cotton-wood and slippery elm from twenty to thirty inches through. The country is very broken. The bottom we camped in is beautiful farming land and very rich. No timber except on the streams. Three hundred yards south of our camp runs Little Blue.

May 26th—Sunday. Not busy all day. Sunned our clothes and provisions. From the appearance of the timber on the creek there has been a fight between the immigrants and the Indians. The timber is very much cut to pieces with bullets. Six trains in sight; one thousand two hundred stock. Some of the boys went out to kill some antelope but did not succeed.

May 27th—Monday. Struck tents. Came into the road. Found some men digging a grave. A man died last night within a quarter of a mile of our tents. Passed other new graves today, and three dead horses. Country broken, water scarce and bad. Traveled twenty miles and camped on the waters of the Little Blue, one of the tributaries of the Kansas River. Very warm this morning. Three trains in sight, and ten thousand stock. Carried wood and water one-half mile. Grass tolerable. Camped on a high ridge. (The train has now crossed from Kansas into Nebraska.)

May 28th—Tuesday. Struck tents. Passed this day three hundred ox-wagons and five thousand head of loose stock. Passed three dead oxen. Roads good. Traveled this day up the Little Blue valley, beautiful country. Some of the boys went out buffalo hunting. Did not succeed. Brought in a small antelope. Camped in a beautiful bottom one-half mile from food or water. Got some wood and buffalo chips. Traveled twenty-five miles. The morning was very cold, and cool all day and clear. Met fourteen trading wagons coming in from the Rocky Mountains loaded with buffalo robes and furs. (Buffalo chips were “discs” of dried buffalo dung. Oftentimes a sling was rigged up under the wagons. As the travelers walked along, they’d pick up these chips and throw them in the slings. That night they had fuel for campfires, as trees and wood were often scarce on the prairie. I hope they burned fairly odor free.)

May 29th—Wednesday. Traveled all day up the valley of the Little Blue. Passed two hundred and twenty-five ox wagons. Hauled wood and water to cook with, two miles. One new grave and two dead oxen. Passed a train of government wagons on our right. A file of soldiers marched behind and one before the train. Traveled twenty-five miles and camped on a high ridge. Grass not very good. Very much fatigued this evening from our hard day’s travel. All well.

May 30th—Thursday. Left the waters of the Little Blue this morning and traveled nearly north for the Platte (River). Traveled fifteen miles without water. Very warm and wind cool. Saw six antelope. The roads this day were very good. Struck the valley of the Platte at four o’clock. Traveled up it four miles and camped on the bank opposite Grand Island. This prong is about one-hundred miles wide; ten inches to three feet deep. Very low bank, two and a half feet. No wood on the southside so could not cook this morning. Just as we entered the valley we saw a buffalo chase. The boys were out after them and killed two. Passed one new grave and one dead ox and horse. The valley of the Platte River at this point is about four miles wide. The lengh (length) of which I do not know. Supped on buffalo meat. Sixteen trains in sight of camp and over five thousand head of stock. Passed two-hundred fifty ox-wagons this day. Showers of rain this evening. Came into the Council buffalo road this evening. Cooked with willow sprouts. Breakfasted on antelope. Traveled twenty-five miles.

May 31st—Struck tents. Traveled up the valley of the Platte eight miles. Came to Fort Kearney. It is situated on the south side of the river and near the head of the Grand Island. There are four frame buildings, two stories high, and fifteen or twenty built of turf (sod houses). All of the stables are covered with hay. I saw four six-pounders (cannons) mounted on carriages, ready for service. Left the fort at eleven o’clock. Traveled up the valley ten miles and camped. We passed the head of Grand Island this evening. The river above the island is at least a mile and a half wide and from ten inches to three feet deep. Very muddy banks, four feet high. A great many islands in the river and you may look up the river and see the water and sky meet. No timber on the south side and very little on the north. The islands are covered with willow sprouts which serve for fuel. We dug a well this evening for water, got plenty. Cooked with willow sprouts and buffalo chips. Passed one dead horse, and one ox. Sun warm, wind cool.

Thus ended the first month on the trail to California. Most trains going to California left in May so they could cross the Rocky Mountains before winter snows began. The territory the train is in now is called the Great Plains because of its vastness and lack of trees, except along the fringes of rivers. Most of the earlier Indians they saw were fairly peaceful, but the Plains tribes resented the intruders. Forts were established along the trails to protect the travelers. The journey of Ezekial Owens is just beginning. Join us next time for his further true-life adventures.

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