Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Through Chariton in an ox-drawn wagon during 1853

Amelia Stewart Knight (above) and her family passed through the raw village of Chariton, then just four years old, on the cold and cloudy morning of Saturday, April 16, 1853, in a covered wagon drawn by oxen named Tip and Tyler --- bound for Oregon. She was 36 at the time and her husband, Joel, a physician turned farmer, had just turned 45 on the 5th.

The Knights had followed the old Mormon Trail, blazed during 1846 by LDS pioneers, from their home at Mt. Sterling, in Van Buren County's Vernon Township, and would remain on it --- crossing the Missouri River at Kanesville (now Council Bluffs) on May 5.

Amelia, when she was 17, had married Joel, an English-born hatter turned medical student, age 26, on Sept. 18, 1834, in her native Boston and their first son, Plutarch, was born there. During March of 1837, they came west and settled at Mt. Sterling. Nine years later, commencing in the spring of 1846, they had watched Mormon refugees head west on the trail a couple of miles north of their home, then Calfornia-bound forty-niners and after that, many others.

Joel reportedly did not like Iowa winters and had itchy feet --- and so they left their home of 16 years  during April of 1853 and headed west to the Pacific Northwest themselves. 

The Knights were relatively affluent and so their party reportedly consisted of three ox-drawn wagons, livestock and five young men brought along to help out in return for board and a modest stipend.

There were seven children, too --- Plutarch, age 17; Seneca, age 15; Frances Amelia, age 14; Jefferson, age 11; Lucy Jane, age 8; Almira, age 5; and Chatfield, age 2.

Amelia was pregnant during the entire journey and give birth to Wilson Carl on Sept. 18, 1853, as the family neared its destination.


Fortunately for us all, Amelia began a lively and literate diary on the day the family left Mt. Sterling  and continued to make entries daily until the journey was done.

The diary was published first during 1928 in Transactions of the Oregon Pioneer Association. I've transcribed Amelia's entries regarding the family's trek across Iowa from that publication. The entire diary has since been published in a couple of compilations that may be purchased, but also is available in its entirety at various places online for those who might like to follow the family farther west.

The diary itself was given to the University of Washington Library during 1935 at the direction of Amelia's son, Chatfield.

Settle back now and enjoy the ride across southern Iowa as seen through the eyes of Amelia Stewart Knight:


Saturday, April 9th, 1853 --- Started from home about 11 o'clock and traveled 8 miles and camped in an old house; night cold and frosty.

Sunday, April 10th --- Cool and pleasant, road hard and dusty. Evening: Came 18 1/2 miles and camped close to the Fulkerson's house.

Monday, April 11th --- Morn. Cloudy and signs of rain; about 10 o'clock it began to rain. At noon it rains so hard we turn out and camp in a school house after traveling 11 1/2 miles; rains all afternoon and all night, very unpleasant. Jefferson and Lucy have the mumps. Poor cattle bawled all night.

Tuesday, April 12th --- Warm and sultry. Still cloudy, road very muddy, traveled 10 miles and camp on Soap creek bottom. Creek bank full; have to wait till it falls.

Wednesday, April 13th --- Quite cold. Little ewes crying with cold feet. Fifteen wagons all getting ready to cross the creek. Hurrah and bustle to get breakfast over. Feed the cattle. Hurrah boys, all ready, we will be the first to cross the creek this morning. Gee up Tip and Tyler, and away we go, the sun just rising. Evening --- We have traveled 24 miles today and are about to camp in a large prairie without wood. Cold and chilly; east wind. The men have pitched the tent and are hunting something to make a fire to get supper. I have the sick headache and must leave the boys to get it themselves the best they can.

Friday, April 15th --- Cold and cloudy, wind still east. Bad luck last night. Three of our horses got away. Suppose they have gone back. One of the boys has gone back after them, and we are going on slowly. Evening --- Henry has come back with the horses all right again. Came 17 miles today. Roads very bad and muddy. Cold and cloudy all day. It is beginning to rain; the boys have pitched the tent and I must get supper.

Saturday, April 16th --- Camped last night three miles east of Chariton Point in the prairie. Made our beds down in the tent in the wet and mud. Bed clothes nearly spoiled. Cold and cloudy this morning, and every body out of humour. Seneca is half sick. Plutarch has broke his saddle girth. Husband is scolding and hurrying all hands (and the cook), and Almira says she wished she was home, and I say ditto. "Home, Sweet Home." Evening --- We passed a small town this morning called Chariton Point. The sun shone a little this afternoon. Came 24 miles today, and have pitched our tent in the prairie again, and have some hay to put under our beds. Corn one dollar per bushel, feed for our stock cost 16 dol. tonight.

Sunday, April 17th --- It is warm and pleasant; we are on our way again, traveling over some very pretty rolling prairie. Corn is up to three dollars a bushel. Travel 20 miles today, and have camped in the prairie. No wood to cook with. Have to eat cold supper. Have the good luck to find corn at 80 cents a bushel.

Monday, April 18th --- Cold; breaking fast the first thing; very disatreeable weather; wind east, cold and rainy, no fire. We are on a very large prairie, no timber to be seen as far as the eye can reach. Evening --- Have crossed several bad streams today, and more than once have been stuck in the mud. We passed Pisgah this afternoon and have just crossed the Grand river and will camp in a little bottom. Plenty of wood and we will have a warm supper, I guess. Came 22 miles today. My head aches, but the fire is kindled and I must make some tea, that will help it, if not cure it.

Tuesday, April 19th --- Still damp and cloudy; corn very scarce and high. Traveled 20 miles and camp.

Wednesday, April 20th --- Cloudy. We are creeping along slowly, one wagon after another, the same old gait; and the same thing over, out of one mud hole into another all day. Crossed a branch where the water run into the wagons. No corn to be had within 75 miles. Came 18 miles and camp.

Thursday, April 21st --- Rained all night; is still raining. I have just counted 17 wagons traveling ahead of us in the mud and water. No feed for our poor stock to be got at any price. Have to feed them flour and meal. Traveled 22 miles today.

Friday, April 22nd --- Still bad weather; no sun; traveling on, mile after mile in the mud, mud. Traveled 21 miles and cross Nishnabotna and camp on the bank of it.

Saturday, April 23rd --- Still in camp, it rained hard all night, and blew a hurricane almost. All the tents were blown down, and some wagons capsized. Evening --- It has been raining hard all day; everything is wet and muddy. One of the oxen is missing; the boys have been hunting him all day. Dreary times, wet and muddy, and crowded in the tent, cold and wet and uncomfortable in the wagon. No place for the poor children. I have been busy cooking, roasting coffee, etc., today, and have come into the wagon to write this and make our bed.

Sunday, April 24th --- the rain has ceased and the sun shines a little; must stay in camp and dry the bed clothes. No feed for the stock, but what little grass they can pick. Afternoon --- Found the ox, and lost our muley cow (hornless). Must wait and find her.

Monday, April 25th --- Rather cold, but the sun shines once more. Still feeding the cattle and horses on flour. One of our horses badly foundered. On our way again, at last, found our cow with a young calf; had to leave the calf behind; then travel on a while and come to a very bad sidling bridge to cross over a creek. Came 18 miles.

Tuesday, April 26th --- Cold and clear; found corn last night at 2 dollars a bushel. Paid 12 dollars for about half a feed for our stock. I can count 20 wagons winding up the hill ahead of us. Traveled 20 miles and camp.

Wednesday, April 27th --- A nice spring morning; warm and pleasant; the road is covered with wagons and cattle. Paid two dollars 40 cts. for crossing a bridge today and camp on a creek called (blank) about 10 miles from the bluffs.

Thursday, April 28th --- Still in camp, pleasant weather; we will stay here few days to rest and recruit  (sic) our cattle, wash, cook, etc.

Friday, April 29th --- Cool and pleasant; saw the first Indians today. Lucy and Almira afraid and run into the wagon to hide. Done some washing and sewing.

Saturday, April 30th --- Fine weather; spent this day in washing, baking and overhauling the wagons. Several more wagons have camped around us.

Sunday, May 1st. --- Still fine weather; wash and scrub all the children.

Monday, May 2nd --- Pleasant evening; have been cooking and packing things away for an early start in the morning. Threw away several jars, some wooden buckets, and all our pickles. Too unhandy to carry. Indians came to our camp every day, begging money and something to eat. Children are getting used to them.

Tuesday, May 3rd --- Fine weather. Leave Loudenback and his team this morning and are on our way again. Travel 6 or 7 miles and camp on Pony Creek; here Plutarch is taken sick.

Wednesday, May 4th --- Weather fair; travel 3 miles today, passed through Kanesville and camp in a lane, not far from the Missouri River, and wait our turn to cross. No feed for the stock, have to buy flour at 3 1/2 per hundred to feed them.

Thusday, May 5th --- We crossed the river this morning on a large steam boat called the Hindoo, after a great deal of Hurrahing and trouble to get the cattle all aboard. One ox jumped overboard and swam across the river, and came out like a drowned rat. The river is even with its banks, timber on it, which is mostly cottonwood, is quite green. Cost us $15 dollars to cross. After bidding Iowa a kind farewell we travel about 8 miles and camp among the ruins of the Mormon towns. We here join another company, which will make in all 24 men, 10 wagons, and a large drove of cattle. Have appointed a captain, and are now prepared to guard the stock, four men watch  2 hours and then call up four more to take their places, so by that means no person can sleep about the camp. Such a wild, noisy set was never heard.

Friday, May 6th --- Pleasant. We have just passed the Mormon graveyard. There is a great number of graves on it. The road is covered with wagons and cattle. Here we passed a train of wagons on their way back, the head man had been drowned a few days before, in a river called Elkhorn, while getting some cattle across, and his wife was lying in the wagon quite sick, and children were mourning for a father gone. With sadness and pity I passed those who perhaps a few days before had been well and happy as ourselves. Came 20 miles today.


Amelia's last diary entry was dated Sept. 17, the day before her son, Wilson Carl Knight, was born.

During October, the family ferried themselves, their livestock, wagons and belongings across the Columbia River to Camas, Washington Territory, by skiff, canoes and flatboat --- an operation that required three days to complete. There, Joel traded two yoke of oxen for a quarter section of land that became the family home. Their ninth and final child, Adam, was born there during 1855.

Joel Knight died at home on May 20, 1867, age 59. Amelia died in nearby Vancouver, Washington, on Jan. 25, 1898, age 81.

A certain amount of misinformation has crept into the Knight story as the years have passed, including the statement that the family's journey began in Monroe County, Iowa. It did not.

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